Ben Grosser is an artist, composer, and programmer based in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. His work is highly attuned to the role of computation in changing and producing aesthetics, knowledge and social formations and much of it is available to view online at http://bengrosser.com/. Recently, Ben made a new piece of software available. Facebook Demetricator is a tool for adapting the social network's interface so that the numerical data it foregrounds is removed. No longer is the focus on how many friends one has or how many comments they've gotten, but on who those friends are and what they've written. The following interview took place by email in September 2012:
Facebook uses numbers as a key part of the information provided on its interface. Things, or what are there rendered as things, such as likes, friends, comments waiting, events, are all numbered as are the relation of several other kinds of things to time. Facebook Demetricator suggests that Facebook users might step away from enumeration as a way of understanding the service. What role, for you, does the number play in Facebook, and what does the Demetricator propose?
As a regular user of Facebook I continually find myself being enticed by these numbers. How many friends do I have? How much do people like my status? I focus on these quantifications, watching for the counts of responses rather than the responses themselves, or waiting for numbers of friend requests to appear rather than looking for meaningful connections. In other words, these numbers lead me to evaluate my participation within the system from a metricated viewpoint.
What's going on here is that these quantifications of social connection play right into my capitalism-inspired desire for more ...