I have 876 Twitter followers, 798 Tumblr followers and 684 Facebook friends. On Facebook, I have uploaded 7879 photos and have been tagged in 1445 photos. My Klout score is 61. My Flickr photos have been viewed 96,170 times, 66 so far today. The tweet I am about to write will be my 9666th. A bar above this article will tell you how many times it has been tweeted and liked.
Everywhere you look on today's web, numbers confront you.
Numbers are inherent to the nature of the web and computers themselves. Vagueness is the enemy of the database. My sister's Nike app doesn't tweet that she "ran home from work", it gives an exact readout in kilometres. Computers have issues saying things are "generally well received".
I would love to say these numbers are meaningless, but I will always check the follower/following ratio of new Twitter followers, and I can't help but smile when something I wrote gets more than 20 likes. What does it remind me of? Points. Points in video games.
The internet is slowly making our lives more and more quantifiable. Yuppies still judge themselves by their salary and apartment size, but their Klout score is important too. This "gamification" of real life is everywhere — from tracking your exercise in minute detail, to calorie counting, to becoming the Foursquare mayor of a cafe you like, to obsessively chronicling the novel you have read on Goodreads. It isn't always competitive or even broadcast — we just effing love numbers. I mean, look at Trakr, which allows you to track virtually everything you do.
This data is a goldmine for advertisers, which is why Facebook and Google track it so aggressively, but it only works like that because we are so obsessed with it ourselves. The least narcissistic person in the world would probably still be interested if you told them the exact number of metres they had walked in their life. Numbers, of course, don't lie. This obsession with data has led to the huge boom of infographics — numbers are awesome but context and visualisation is even better.
Is this deification of numbers a good thing? It obviously isn't quite everywhere — I still don't tell people I'm +8 positive when they ask me how I'm feeling, and Buzzfeed needs badges for many more variables than just "good" and "bad" — "cute" etc.
Computers can get as smart as they want, I still can't see them replicating the sheer irrationality we humans often display — stupid things like writing a blog about numbers when I could be somehow improving my life. Computers can't become us, but we can slowly become computers, parts of our life anyway. As with many tech developments of late, it's both exciting and terrifying.
Henry Cooke is a 20-year-old student/nerd who lives and breathes the internet — which he believes is mankind's crowning achievement. He blogs about the trends and technologies of the net, translating the babble and buzzwords so they make sense to regular folk. Email Henry or follow him on Twitter.