The Vanity of New Metrics

Digital metrics increasingly define us, creating a new way to value each other and ourselves. Big data, sensors and algorithms will fuel a new wave of vanity metrics that will further refine self-identity.

We got an early taste of this new digital vanity with Klout, Empire Avenue, PeerIndex and other influence metrics. But things are going to get worse (or better, depending on your perspective).

Consider the movement toward the Internet of Things and this week’s mega-acquisition of Nest. We are literally just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to personal data. We’ll be able to see how many times a day we open the fridge, and for how long. What are our peak grazing periods, and which products do we reach for the most?

That kind of data creates statistics, lots of them.

Suddenly, every aspect of our lives will become a sabermetric, giving us the chance to optimize our lifestyle. You can see this already with leaderboards and badges for social giving, fitness apps, and more.

Performance will become a mantra for some more competitive and vain people.

It’s not hard to envision endless chatter at the coffee shop, the water cooler and the bar about how life is better thanks to xxx [data-drive] app. Even more amazing, will be the discussions about how xx is in the 95th percentile of powersavers in the neighborhood.

Impact

10279177113_0f9fb48ece_z

Now look, some people will take this more seriously than others, but we all know what a good portion of top performers do…

They put stickers on their car, “My Child is an Honor Roll Student.” Or badges on their blog. Or ribbons on their social network profile. Or include it in their bios. Whatever the statistic may be, we will hear endlessly about it from the more competitive and vain types.

Let’s be clear. The need to measure one’s performance — and in the most shallow and vain examples one’s self worth — existed well before Internet life. Consider school grades, attendance reports, boy and girl scout badges, colored belts for martial arts, etc. But in many of these cases we rewarded achievements.

Now we will reward arcane personal statistics.

In business, this metric based reality is inescable. The bottom line on any outcome measured by data is a merciless judge who has no defining characteristic other than success or fail. The application of metrics is the ultimate judge of any business person.

Marketers who value freedom and qualitative success above metric performance are having a hard time of it in this world where data drives everything. As Avinash Kaushik said this week, no one wants to hire a reporting squirrel. And can you blame companies? We know precision exists, and now brands are demanding it.

Are You a Metric?

The real concern is that we are conditioning ourselves to value statistical vanity and shallow egotism. The attention economy demands it. The proliferation of performance-bragging will become more and more commonplace. Welcome to the new rat race for many insignificant badges.

We see today’s conversations about self esteem and image, from the Dove Real Beauty campaign to online self worth to bullying conversations. Forthcoming vanity metrics will bring many new questions:

  • How are we going to deal with self image when so many people tie it to a metric?
  • How do you grapple with social climbers who will throw you under the bus in favor of appeasing the sensor or algorithm?
  • How will impact be defined in the future? Touching and changing people’s lives or breaking records in arcane communities that relish niche statistics?
  • What will we write on our gravestones in 50 years, a top ranked blogger who achieved a 16.7% lifetime share rate, or writer?

I don’t know about you, but I have many fears about this next wave of technology. Why? Consider how we as a species embrace technologies on a sociological level. Humans tend to adpat technologies blindly on hopes of achieving promised benefits. We rarely consider societal impact.

We’re already grappling with the ugly from social, and now we will see the ugly side of data metrics. While society will reap the economic benefits of data, expect shock from individuals and communities who are dismayed by the coming wave of metric-based vanity.

What do you think?

Featured image by Jo. Boy scout badges image by torbakhopper.

Would I Use a Traditional Publisher Again?

In the last week, I finalized the manuscript for Exodus, and began the process to distribute the book on August 26th. Everything looks like it will be done on time or before deadline, providing a little time to reflect.

After independently producing my own book, would I reconsider my February statement, and work with a traditional publisher again?

I think I would, not because I like publishers, but because producing a decent book independently requires significant effort. The key word here is independent, and not self-publish. Publishing a sub-par book that lacked writing quality is not an option.

Achieving quality has been more arduous than I had thought. As someone who has not quit his day job and is publishing as a hobby, I have to admit independent publishing requires significant bandwidth!!!

In addition to my own labors over the past eight months, several key parties worked on Exodus. Jessica Dell cleaned up my original manuscript with all of my handwritten edits in the first quarter. Then I hired three different editors, two for development and one to proof the manuscript; Erin Feldman, Jennifer Stevens, and Kirkus, respectively.

From a production standpoint, Jess Ostroff helped me figure out distribution, cleaned up the last round of edits, and has been instrumental in moving the book to market. Aaron Mahnke designed the cover, and Chrisy Shim laid out the advance copy PDF (email me if you want a copy). Justin Gutwein is producing the video trailer.

Getting the picture? A lot of people have contributed to this effort. Yes, modern publishers rarely help their smaller authors do much much with marketing. But publishers offer more than you think when it comes to editing and production.

For someone like me who is already occupied with work and family, the percentage of proceeds yielded may be worth recouping the time. Of course, I don’t know what the results will be from Exodus, but if you asked me today, that would be my answer.

I am still planning on independently producing the next books in the trilogy, but the effort has been significant giving me a new appreciation for what traditional publishers do. If one came a knocking, I would seriously weigh working with someone else. I would have to really like the publisher, and they would have to believe in my vision.

What do you think about independent publishing?