Something weird happened when I started using Google+. I felt free. I felt like a little self-reinvention, like not talking about marketing, like posting funny stuff, or gross stuff, like talking to a lot of people I don’t know. Like socializing.
I thought it was all the fresh air of a brand-free space. But it turns out it wasn’t marketing that was oppressing me. It was Klout.
I installed the Twitter Klout plugin for Firefox last week. It shows people’s score right beside their name in the stream. The better to judge you with, my dear. I immediately, subconsiously, consciously, and sickeningly began determining my interactions by people’s number.
Comment from a 21? Adorable; I’ll get back to you—later. Retweet from an 80? Plus one! Double klouties if I “engage” back with a reply. Like a simplified Empire Avenue (which has way too much math to be called “fun”), I played Klout’s numbers game obsessively. I’m a competitive person.
Twitter became calculated, and I didn’t like myself very much.
Tweet or don’t tweet, there is no “I’m working”.
The secret of Klout is that Klout rewards vapid socializing. If you put your nose to the grindstone and produce something beautiful, meaningful, helpful, or valuable—you know, the content on which the social web thrives, which the vapid socialites get famous for spreading—you’re punished by the algorithm for not tweeting.
That’s not right.
What also isn’t right is the callous numerical valuation of human beings. Sure, marketers need to know who gets the most attention in this word-of-mouth environment, so they can buy “ad space” in the age of influencers. Klout commodifies people so they can be sold to advertisers. Let’s see how long people tolerate endorsements as friends.
I am not a number.
In discussing the reductive power of relying on technology to rank us, media theorist Neil Postman observes that algorithms cannot classify human ability (just for fun: substitution of “Klout” instead of “bureaucracy” or “technopoly” etc mine; the man died before all this social stuff went down):
[Klout's] role in reducing the types & quantity of information admitted to the system often goes unnoticed, and therefore its role in redefining traditional concepts also goes unnoticed.
In other words, Klout can’t measure the whole picture, but walks around like it does and acts insidiously on your valuation of human beings.
There is, for example, no test that can measure a person’s [Klout]. The test transforms an abstract and multifaceted meaning into a technical and exact term that leaves out everything of importance. [Klout] relies on our believing in the reality of technical machinery, which means we will reify the answer generated by the machinery. We come to believe that our score is our [Klout] or our capacity for [Klout].
There is no denying that the technicalization of [Klout] is a serious form of information control. Institutions can make decisions on the basis of scores and statistics, and there certainly may be occasions where there in no reasonable alternative. But unless such decisions are made with profound skepticism—that is, acknowledgement as being made for administrative convenience—they are delusionary.
In [Klout], the delusion is sanctified by our granting inordinate prestige to experts who are armed with sophisticated technical machinery.
Neil Postman, Technopoly, The Surrender of Culture to Technology, 1993
Can I tempt you with some shiny glass beads?
In the middle of this, a very ironic Klout Perk—the “media buy” that’s supposed to rent my word of mouth ad space—hits my inbox with free movie tickets.
This isn’t the game I want to play. I’m enjoying Google+’s not-yet-very hierarchical social space. So Google, stay on brand & don’t let Klout scrape your network for “influence data”. Don’t tolerate this high school bullshit. It gets better, remember?