Sunday, December 29, 2019

Memories and metrics

These two married people really have shared many things.  However, when we remember them, we often remember quite different aspects of the events.  The duet between Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold, "Ah, yes, I remember it well", depicts the differences in a single event remembered by just two people.  Of course, differences and divergences are multiplied vastly when large groups are involved instead of just two people.  This morning, I read the words "according to our metric". I am glad to see those words and I hope more people will take them up and use them.

When comparing nations, groups, religions, writers or whatever, investigators often create "metrics", measures that are thought to be basic to the comparison. But already we are in the thick of it.  Why compare? To interest audience ? To feel superior? To challenge ourselves to improve? The purpose, even when it is not discussed, matters. Some other purpose would likely lead to a different investigation.  Already, opinions may differ on the value of making a comparison, and on which items to compare.

When people think about the way testimonies, histories and data analysis are structured, they improve their sophistication.  They tend to gauge the resulting judgments for adequacy, bias and focus. Remember Ferdinand the Bull? He was the bull who fictionally preferred to gaze lovingly with appreciation at the flowers in the fields instead of fighting and snorting.  So, the best field for Ferdinand might well be a loser of a field for the other bulls.  

It is quite American and modern to wonder who or what is best.  Are we #1? As the year ends, as the best menu items, novels and winter coats are being selected, the problem of the metric to be used gets highlighted.  Here are words from the New Yorker:

Every year, we publish a list of readers' favorite New Yorker pieces, and every year we encounter the same problem: there's no precise way to measure popularity online. Or, perhaps more accurately, there are multiple ways, and they each tell a different story. Unique visitors—the sheer number of people who have landed on a story—is the bluntest of metrics. For publications sustained by advertising revenue, this number is key, because each visit, no matter how brief, generates some incremental amount of revenue. But the number fails to capture whether these readers stick around and form any kind of loyalty to a publication. Engaged minutes, the term for the total amount of time that readers spend on a piece, is more helpful. But even this metric, however gratifying, doesn't fully capture The New Yorker's ambition to be a valued daily destination for news and cultural coverage, ideas and arguments, fiction and poetry, and humor.

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