Quantity over quality is making our lives feel empty

By J. W. Traphagan 4 minute Learn

In the event you spend time on Twitter, chances are you’ll discover common tweets like, “so excited, nearly to 500 followers!” Folks ask others to comply with them, promising to comply with again. And in the event you don’t comply with again rapidly, there’s a great probability the opposite particular person will unfollow you. Tweet usually to get extra followers, we’re advised. Fb, Instagram, Snapchat aren’t any totally different. Even Venmo, which is for the aim of transferring cash, states, “Including buddies is an essential a part of the Venmo expertise.” Clearly, we must always need extra money and extra buddies. It’s the amount that issues.

 On social media, as in life, persons are usually centered on how a lot they’ll get or produce. It appears a lot much less widespread to be centered on the quality of 1’s tweets—or the quality of 1’s followers and buddies on social media—than it is to have plenty of both. The end result is an limitless shallowness, a monotony of empty tweets and distant acquaintances whose major existences are skilled as quantities. 


The emphasis on amount begins early. What number of candies did you get on Halloween? A giant haul is finest. And on the most pernicious of all holidays, youngsters are taught to worth what number of presents are beneath the Christmas tree, usually with little concern for the quality or which means of these presents. It stays with us as we age: What number of vehicles do you personal? What number of youngsters do you have got? What number of steps did I stroll right this moment? We even characterize the worth of people by way of a amount—we name it internet price. 

Counting permeates most features of our lives. A number of years in the past at my college, for instance, upper-level directors applied a system by which they might rely the variety of butts in seats (a amount) for every school after which allocate funds (one other amount) on the idea of whether or not or not a given school has met its assigned benchmark of butts (yet one more amount) for the yr. Schools that surpass the butt benchmark get extra money; people who don’t get much less. 

Why is this unhealthy? As a result of, the limitless emphasis on amount distracts us from one thing far more essential: Quality. Being centered on what number of butts are in seats shifts consideration away from the far more essential query of the quality of studying and considering that is happening within the school rooms (and among the many college students whose butts we’re involved with counting). This transforms the complicated stability amongst totally different types of information manufacturing right into a numbers recreation, privileging disciplines that may draw giant numbers of scholars, like engineering and enterprise, over people who don’t, like philosophy and cultural research. 

It’s principally the identical as counting followers on Twitter. And the emphasis on counting tends to advertise the absence of quality, which as thinker Robert Pirsig put it, “is the essence of squareness.”  And to be sq. is to be boring, standard, uninteresting. In different phrases, it’s shallow.

We reside in a “quantocracy.” We reside in a society pushed by the concept the whole lot have to be counted after which judged on the idea of what number of of one thing we’ve amassed—extra is often higher.  Certainly, it’s in the best way we frequently strategy networking that this drawback is most clearly evident. Social media platforms encourage us to conceptualize our community by way of how many individuals we’re linked to, relatively than by way of the quality of the connections and the sorts of folks with whom we’re linked.

Though it might feel good to have a lot of followers on Twitter or Linkedin, or to see that quantity rising rapidly, these numbers are empty. Why? As a result of quantocracies subordinate quality to amount and generate an atmosphere the place counting, relatively than understanding the meanings and values behind what is counted, turns into considered because the purpose in and of itself. What issues is what number of? with out quite a lot of reflection on how good? 

Our society tells us to care about how a lot or what number of we’ve of issues, concepts, and even sorts of folks. It devalues the far more essential job of understanding the qualities, experiences, and meanings of these issues, concepts, and those who form our lives and convey us satisfaction and happiness. In our workplaces (and extra typically in our lives), we have to ask a easy query: Can we wish to reside in a world pushed by how a lot we’ve of the whole lot or will we wish to reside in a world pushed by the quality of what we’ve, our experiences, and our lives?


If we want, each as people and as a society, to reside within the latter, step one is to cease counting the whole lot. Fairly than caring with the variety of followers we’ve on Twitter or Linkedin, or the variety of butts we’ve in school classroom seats, we’d wish to start by asking in regards to the qualities of the individuals who comply with us and whom we comply with or the options of schooling that generate accountable residents and a wholesome society.  

On the subject of networking, earlier than following somebody or being happy that we had been adopted, we must always ask questions like: Do we’ve related pursuits? Does particular person X have views totally different from my very own that problem me to assume in new methods? Is it, maybe, higher to have 5 followers make me assume than 5,000 who solely comply with me as a result of I adopted them or as a result of we’ve the identical political beliefs? If we had been to emphasise the quality of connections in our networks, we’d have far fewer numbers, however the power of these networks could be stronger and our interactions with folks throughout these networks would develop into a basis for supporting interdependence and significant communication.  

J.W. Traphagan is a Professor in Human Dimensions of Organizations on the College of Texas at Austin. His most up-to-date guide is Embracing Uncertainty: Future Jazz, That 13th Century Buddhist Monk, and the Invention of Cultures. Comply with him on Twitter @John_Traphagan