We Are All Quants Now
What's 'like' got to do with it? A lot—but not everything.
Paula Marantz Cohen
Sept. 12, 2014 7:04 p.m. ET
A young friend of mine who babysits for children in hip areas of New York City recently reported having the following experience: One of her charges, a girl of about 7, was working on a drawing.
"That's good work," said my friend in encouraging fashion. "Are you proud of it?"
"I'm not sure," said the little girl, "I'll bring it to school and see how many 'likes' I get."
My friend, though in her 20s, is still old enough to remember a world before Facebook , and she reported this incident with some incredulity. For me, the effect is even stronger. I think that the child's response reflects a culturally significant trend.
For a 7-year-old to want to assess her drawing by the number of "likes" it gets means that she understands her artwork in quantitative terms. It's the trickle-down effect of our culture of assessment and "big data" analysis. Not only are primary and secondary schools now instituting assessment testing at every grade and in every subject area, but the most elite universities that once prided themselves on delivering an ineffable "liberal education" are now seeking to quantify the value-added of four years on campus and tens of thousands of dollars in tuition. The same sorts of assessment tools drive the marketplace, as Netflix and Amazon quantify our buying habits and pitch us products based on our user profile. Is there any wonder that a young child would want to assess her artwork using the same sorts of tools?
This new twist in the culture has existential implications. It affects the shape of the self. It makes our judgments, values and tastes subject to a new context of evaluation. Who we are comes to mimic the tools that analyze us. This may explain why so many people, especially young adults, think that privacy doesn't matter. What do they have to hide? A surface, measurable self has replaced a...