published Thursday, February 6th, 2014

In Tune: So what do the numbers really mean?

Last week, Spotify notified me that I had a new user following one of my playlists. At first, my heart leapt, but when I glanced at the size of my audience, it plummeted back to the warm, sloshy pit of my stomach.

Twelve.

Many a musical snob has assured me I have terrible taste in bands, but regardless, that number seems low. Surely, more people must want to follow me, if only to see what new bits of musical garbage are floating in the cesspool of my adoration.

So I began comparing profiles. My cousin in New York? Thirty-six followers. A friend with two -- two! -- playlists called "Snowboarding"? Fourteen.

It was about this time I realized I'd fallen, yet again, into an all-too-common social-media pitfall. I had become obsessed with a meaningless statistic. Again.

When Facebook came to Middle Tennessee State University in 2005, there was a mad stampede to sign up, and almost immediately, the students began competing to see who could amass the highest friend count. Even in the early days, there were enough people on the service that requests were whizzing back and forth across campus like machine-gun fire over no man's land.

Our counts soared. I clawed my way to 100, then 200. I added people I barely knew. Janitors? The mailroom staff? Ex-girlfriends? All fair game.

I'm not sure what changed, but I eventually realized we were all tilting at windmills. What did having 400 "friends" mean, if most were barely acquaintances?

That night, I wielded the "unfriend" button like William Wallace brandishing a claymore. My friend count dropped, but what was left, while less impressive, seemed more meaningful.

I never learn, though. Time and again, I've fixated on pointless metrics: LinkedIn connections, YouTube subscribers, Google+ circles. The worst by far is Klout, which calculates -- presumably through magic and alchemy -- your influence across multiple social-media networks and assigns a "score" that fluctuates like the vocal chords of an adolescent yodeler.

It's probably my innate competitiveness that assigns value to these statistics, but I just can't stand not being decent at something. (If there were a trophy for snipe hunting, I'd want it.) So a dozen Spotify fans just struck me as insulting, even if it's meaningless.

Then again, maybe I'm too quick to be upset. After all, Jesus started with 12 followers, too.

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Help him win at Twitter by following @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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