My Addiction To Stats

Do you ever find yourself mindlessly refreshing some statistic? At any point I am always refreshing some statistics page — be it website traffic, money, a work metric, followers. It feels like I’m doing something important, but I never actually do anything with the information. And I certainly don’t need to check it every 10 minutes. But I do.

My latest metric is Medium readers. So last night I’m refreshing that feed while out at dinner with my wife. At some point a post I wrote was featured (in a comment) on Hacker News and blew up, at least by my standards. But who cares? Does it change anything I write? I should have just been paying attention to my wife.

It’s the dopamine of accumulation. The thrill of getting ahead. Watching goats come into your pen or money into your till. There’s something deeply satisfying about more and that feeling is what digital companies have all hijacked to keep you doing things and forever refreshing those stats.

The trouble with this obsession with metrics is more than the jitteriness it introduces to my day. When you focus on one metric you may be missing the greater good, and favoring short-term over long-term benefit. They say ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’, but the real question is should you manage it?

Medium views, for example, is a metric that changes every time I refresh it. So this is what I refresh. It is, however, only tangentially related to what I care about (how much money I earn) and perhaps even less related to what I should care about (the quality of my writing).

Medium, thankfully, has actually managed to somehow connect what it measures, to quality. As an example, I wrote a poem, which I really felt, but which only 19 people viewed. I also wrote a political post which 4,500 people viewed. However, when it came down to earnings, I earned about Rs. 100 for the poem and zero for the political post. Small change, I know, I’m just starting out. This is just to illustrate a point.

That poem had 1 person who read it and clapped (my dad, lol), but he happens to be a paid-in Medium member. And of all the stuff he read on Medium this was something he liked, so they saw fit to allocate some of his membership money to me. Even though it got lesser views, it still created value. And Medium was able to capture that. Which I think is honestly great. The pure incentivization of views has been disastrous for digital media, and possibly for the health and happiness of humanity as well.

The fact that they can capture what matters to one person is what gives me hope in this ecosystem.

Now, if you look at the payment summary on Medium, it’s not a metric you need to refresh at all. It only updates once every 7 days. The metric doesn’t give me a dopamine hit and it’s honestly quite unpredictable, but it’s real money, connected to real value created for real people.

But am I going to wait one week for that email? Lol no. I still keep refreshing the views page to ward of the existential dread and comfort myself with the validation of some number. And keep checking it, to check if I’m still worthwhile and alive.

I’m just writing this to tell myself, and you, that it doesn’t really matter. But I’m still going to check how many views this gets.

Written by

A writer living in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He/him. Videos: Patreon:

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