I read Rob Horning’s New Inquiry essay on “Microfame” with over a decade’s worth of my own blogging and social media use flashing before my eyes. The essay is the kind of theory-laden, semi-aphoristic exposition of culture that it takes me a few reads to get my head around, and I might not have finished it had it not rung so true. (He sums up his argument in shorter form in this blog post.) Microfame names and defines something I’ve been living with for a while.
So what does Horning mean by “microfame”? He says that fame refers to “the risk and reward of our efforts to manage our visibility” andmicro has to do with “how the affect is parsed out in small doses, in microaffirmations—likes, retweets, reblogs, mentions, and so on.” I like the word “microaffirmations.” It’s a good term for the thing that brings me to my blog’s stats page, or to check Twitter before bed, just to see if any strangers thought I was funny today. Horning goes in some very interesting directions with this concept, but my thoughts are mainly about whether we take our measurements to be good representations of reality.
After all, the software used to measure website popularity is commonly Google Analytics, or something else built by another ad company, and the basic thing you see is which pages you’ve written that people have looked at the longest. Twitter and Facebook treat “likes” and “retweets” as unweighted, single units of affirmation. The illusion that we have worthwhile proxy measurements for the worth and influence of our text will eventually influence what we write. Or at least it has often done so for me.
But if I stop looking at these measurements just to avoid being implicated in the business of “microfame,” I’m not actually escaping anything — I’m still trying to manage my “personal brand”, but trying to have my brand be authentic. Is there a way to set the game aside?