Artist and composer ↑Ben[jamin] Grosser, currently teaching at the School of Art & Design, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, two days ago has published his fine article “↓What do metrics want? How quantification prescribes social interaction on Facebook.” Here’s the abstract:
The Facebook interface is filled with numbers that count users’ friends, comments, and “likes.” By combining theories of agency in artworks and materials with a software studies analysis of quantifications in the Facebook interface, this paper examines how these metrics prescribe sociality within the site’s online social network. That prescription starts with the transformation of the human need for personal worth, within the confines of capitalism, into an insatiable “desire for more.” Audit culture and business ontology enculturate a reliance on quantification to evaluate whether that desire has been fulfilled. These conditions compel Facebook’s users to reimagine both self and friendship in quantitative terms, and situates them within a graphopticon, a self-induced audit of metricated social performance where the many watch the metrics of the many. The theoretical analyses presented are further considered and examined in practice using the author’s artistic software, Facebook Demetricator. In use by thousands worldwide since late 2012, this software removes all metrics from the Facebook interface, inviting the site’s users to try the system without the numbers and to see how that removal changes their experience. Feedback from users of Facebook Demetricator illuminates how metrics activate the “desire for more,” driving users to want more “likes,” more comments, and more friends. Further, the metrics lead users to craft self-imposed rules around the numbers that guide them on how, when, and with whom to interact. Facebook Demetricator, through its removal of the metrics, both reveals and eases these patterns of prescribed sociality, enabling a social media culture less dependent on quantification.