Take, for example, a group discussion. The moderator introduces a guideline: if you agree with what someone is saying, snap your fingers quietly. What results is when someone says something that folks like, there is a murmur of snaps that rises and falls in the group.
It's a pretty cool way to get feedback. It can be seen as economical: when given feedback on what you're saying, you may be able to know which things people approved of and which things people didn't approve of.
The effect of this is that it seems to create a new currency for quality. It sets a new standard for the quality of ideas presented during this group discussion: the volume (not sound, but number) of snaps it gets. While this could be useful in situations where the feedback that people get is less than they should (which is most situations, I think), it distorts incentives in the group discussion.
- There is not a complete 1:1 mapping between the number of snaps something gets and its true quality. Certain high-quality ideas won't get snaps but are worthy of consideration, such as ideas that challenge existing norms that take more time to digest. Other low-quality ideas will get snaps, such as sardonic remarks, may get snaps that aren't actually in line with its usefulness. In any case, speakers may feel the need to pander to snaps and to tailor their message to gain the highest approval.
- With snaps as the currency for approval and idea quality, people may look to others in the group, not themselves, as deciders for how much they should believe something, kind of like outsourcing. Undoubtedly there are a lot of group dynamic distortions that come from this, but the loss of individual thinking is also a big one here. Here, counter-norm ideas may have even more of a disadvantage as people see the lack of others snapping not as "people have not yet had enough time to process the idea" but rather "people disapprove of this idea".
- The second-order effect of this is that it will generally suppress ideas that might not gain traction in the first place, for fear of not getting snaps and what not getting snaps means for one's reputation. This might further homogenize the group.
- It may exacerbate existing group dynamics distortions like preference for popular members, which may cause further distortions.
Generally, it seems like quantifying approval and idea quantity through snaps incentivizes only basic ideas and not those that are more complex. The method of quantification isn't neutral, since it favors and rewards certain kinds of behaviors. Kind of like how quantifying economic growth through GDP isn't neutral, favors certain behaviors, and can distort incentives.
Cara Dorris wrote an op-ed in the The Brown Daily Herald expressing a similar view:
...that is what snapping does — it turns discussions into performances and discussants into competitors, with each person not trying to contribute to the conversation but trying to rouse the most snaps. Discussion then becomes not a dialogue that builds off itself but a series of monologues, each one trying to outshine the next.
A few questions to generalize this:
- Are there any commonalities between snapping and other forms of quantification? Can we find commonalities between elements of quantification that we can point to? (e.g. what is being quantified and the valence of that and whether it seems to favor/incentivize a certain outcome).
- Is there a framework we can use to analyze a form of quantification and find its downsides?
- What effect might these risks have on emerging things like quantified self? Does tracking steps or calories seem to create better or worse outcomes?
- What generally leads to better or worse outcomes when quantifying? Is there a way to get the benefits of quantification while reducing the downsides and distortions that can come from it? Or is the best way to conduct a group discussion to not have any feedback at all?
- Related to that, is it possible to have a neutral or near-neutral method of quantification?
- What methods of quantification do we see nowadays that are not neutral? GDP is one of them – what are some others that we need to be aware of in a hyper-quantified world?