on Writing & Publishing

Communicate with Humans not Statistics

Have you noticed that the combination of global news, social media, and information and communication overload have dumbed down our senses? They've shifted the focus of our communication, whether that communication occurs at home, at work, at a party or networking event, or even on a blog with our readers.

Instead of talking one-on-one, we have meetings, conference calls, chat rooms, blogs, podcasts, and newsletters. We're forced to communicate with an ever growing audience. We try to communicate with everybody and as a result we genuinely speak to no one.

Communication is becoming de-humanized

Joseph Stalin said, "The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic." Unfortunately, these days the same is true for communication: Interaction with one person is a conversation, interaction with ten million is a broadcast.

The most obvious place to look for this dehumanizing effect is in modern forms of mass communication. Sadly, however, the inherently impersonal nature of the Internet is also affecting our interpersonal skills.

When was the last time you had rich, thoughtful, and lively conversation with someone? When was the last time you felt artistically moved by the words that came from another persons' mouth?

The next time you chat with a family member, a friend, or a co-worker, spend a little extra time thinking about what you want to say. Add more life to your conversation.

Bloggers and writers are most affected

Do you write for a blog or newsletter that has hundreds or even thousands of subscribers? Do you publish content on a website that receives tens of thousands of page view's per month, or perhaps only fifty?

If you're writing to those numbers, you're not reaching anyone. Your content becomes as much of a statistic as the audience you're writing for.

The beauty of the Internet is that we can publish content at a global level. However, that doesn't change the nature of our readers, listeners, and viewers: they're still human. They still enjoy being communicated with as humans.

Think about this for a moment: Whether we're sending an idea or specific message to one person or a group of ten million, the way in which the communication occurs essentially remains the same: if it's a blog, they read text; if it's a podcast, they listen to audio; if it's a video, they watch it; if it's you speaking in person, they hear your voice.

Whatever medium you're using, it's exactly the same method of communication regardless of the number of people receiving the message.

Now here's where things get messy.

If we have a thought provoking conversation with a friend, our messages and thoughts are freely passed between one another, right? Now lets say we want to have that same thought provoking conversation with ten million people. Do we change the message? Do we generalize and try to simplify it a little so everyone can understand? We have to, right?

Wrong!

By paying attention to those numbers and modifying the message (and this subconsciously happens more often than you may think!), you're essentially removing the human aspect of communication. You're no longer speaking to a human.

The more you can remove yourself from the numbers and just produce and release content on your medium of choice with a tiny number of people in mind (perhaps even just one), the more you will connect with each reader on an individual level.

Humans are people too, so become interested and care

If you become genuinely interested in the new person you met at a party or networking event -- if you ask him or her human questions -- you'll immediately discover the conversation becomes more lively and interesting.

If I write on this blog for my one hundred or so subscribers (as of April 2010 over one thousand as of April 2011), who exactly am I writing for? Is "one hundred subscribers" a human being that I can interact and communicate with? Could I even realistically hold a conversation with one hundred people?

DavidT, Bart, Ali, Sid, and Earl, you are the reason I write.

Alexandria, Aditi, Aadi, Anthony, Amar, Andi, Chris, Cody, Donna, Derek, DavidA, Dario, dwalters, Dan, Eddie, Eva, Josiah, Jefferis, Jai, James, Jesse, John, Johan, Jessica, Jeannette, Kevin, Lisa, Linda, Matt, Martin, Miller, Nirmal, Nimit, Neon, Neal, Pedro, Priya, Pemela, Raf, Roth, Sharon, Srey, Scott, Simeon, Sydney, Sarith, Thea, Vinay, Walter, and every single other individual that takes time out of their life to read what I produce, you're the reason I write.

Not the statistics. Not my subscriber count. Not my visitor count.

You. The person reading this text right now.

If my subscriber count magically shot up to one million tomorrow, I'd still be right here, writing for you. I would still be thinking one. Not one million.

When this realization really started to sink in, the urge to check the statistics for my blog essentially disappeared. For the first time since I started tracking them nearly a decade ago, they didn't beg for my attention. Their short term usefulness suddenly seemed unimportant.

A public commitment, a challenge, and a question for you

I'd like to make a public commitment: I will not login to Google Analytics or FeedBurner to check my traffic or subscriber count for the next three months. And to ensure that I can't accidentally peek, I've removed the stats widget from my WordPress dashboard and the subscriber count from my blog.

If you also have a blog or website, big or small, I invite you to follow along with me for the next three months. Remember, we don't create for numbers. We create for humans.

And since I'm creating for you, please let me know if there's something you'd like me to write more about. If I could read minds this wouldn't be necessary, but I haven't acquired that skill (yet).

However, I am human. If we were standing next to each other, what would you ask me?

Update: As I promised, I held out for three full months. When I finally checked my statistics at the end of July 2010, the results were this: everything basically doubled.

I'm now committed to only checking my statistics once a month and I invite you to do the same. There really isn't any need to check them any more frequently. If you like the message behind this post, please consider sharing it with your network of friends.

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28 Comments

  1. You know, I think every blogger needs to read a post like this once in a while.

    Statistics are useful – to a point. It’s helpful to check the numbers every so often, just as it’s helpful to sit down, look back, and check your progress in other areas of life once in a while.

    But I (and many other bloggers, I’m sure) know from personal experience that checking stats (subscribers, comment counts, traffic numbers) is a drug. No joke, no exaggeration. Good number for the day? Instant high. Poor numbers? Instant crash.

    In my opinion, spending too much time on the numbers roller coaster takes all the passion and fun out of something like blogging.

    I have to be honest – I respect your no-stats commitment, and I totally get where your heart is, but I’m not sure three full months away from blog stats is a good thing. I’d suggest maybe checking things once every few weeks – but of course, that’s a personal preference πŸ™‚

    Whatever you decide, good luck!

    P.S. You have an awesome favicon.

    • Hey Jeffrey! Thanks for the comment!

      As I’m sure many bloggers will agree, you’re dead on with calling stat checking a drug. Even worse, I think it’s a drug that has a huge negative impact on the content we produce for our readers, an impact that is often difficult to detect!

      I agree that three months is excessive for the long-term. I’m doing three months mainly as a personal challenge — a quitting cold-turkey method of getting me off the drug if you will. πŸ™‚ I think once a month is a good interval to see where your traffic is coming from and what keywords people are searching for.

      In case you’re curious where the favicon came from, it’s from Eric S. Raymond’s site.

  2. I feel like this is a trending topic today πŸ™‚ Always a great reminder and always awesome to see my name on someone’s post!

    I was just talking to another blogger about stats, watching RTs and comment counts and how it affects content. It’s probably the main reason I cut down on how many “typical blog posts” I write and reformatted my approach to blogging to be more one on one beneficial. If no one else reads/views it, the people involved still get something huge out of it. If others do, hopefully it gets them excited to be a part!

    I love being let into the world of your adventures without the ego and distance of listening to a lecturer. Thanks.

    • Hey Andi! Thank you for the kind words. πŸ™‚

      I too am quickly discovering clarity of mind now that I’m not even thinking about the traffic or number of subscribers! I’m also of the same mindset as you when it comes to writing for the subset of people you know are listening and letting the new readers discover and become involved in the work.

  3. “However, I am human. If we were standing next to each other, what would you ask me?”

    Yo Raam that puddle of water you are standing in is really from that lil naked kid that just ran by.

    You laugh now… but… I saw a kid pee and another lil barefooted kid run through it back in Vietnam (1999). I tend to dodge puddles in Viet Nam since then.

    Seriously… great post and it’ll be interesting to see what the first thing out of my mouth will be when we meet. I just hope I don’t do a DJT when we meet.

    • Thank you, David! I’ll definitely be looking out for those puddles! πŸ˜€

      I’m really looking forward to meeting you in Vietnam!

  4. Hey Raam – Not only did you nail down the very reason why I’ll be a reader for as long as you continue to write, but you’ve also given me something to strive for as well with this post. I go through periods of stat-checking insanity followed by periods of complete indifference and in the end, it is definitely the reason why it takes me so long to compose posts.

    I’m not sure I can go for 3 months, but I’ll definitely aim for a month…and I’ll look forward to hopefully achieving some of the clarity that you speak of.

    You blog is one of a kind.

    • Hey Earl, thank you so much for the kind comment and all the support! It really means a lot!

      I agree that three months is excessive, but as I mentioned in a previous comment, I feel the need to cleanse my system of all stat checking I’ve been doing for so long. Ignoring the numbers and really getting them out of your system forces you to think about the human side of things and absolutely breeds clarity!

  5. Heya Raam,

    Well done. This post is very well-done and forced me to reevaluate why I blog, as well as reconsidering my audience.

    It makes so much sense, though – those 50,000 subscribers aren’t going to collectively read your articles. Those 50,000 are 50,000 separate, distinct individuals, who read your content for different reasons. The only thing that we know they have in common (besides their humanity) is that they get value from your posts. That’s it.

    This also reminds me of a quote from The Fountainhead:

    “But the mind is an attribute of the individual. There is no such thing as a collective brain. There is no such thing as a collective thought. An agreement reached by a group of men is only a compromise or an average drawn upon many individual thoughts. It is a secondary consequence. The primary act–the process of reason–must be performed by each man alone. We can divide a meal among many men. We cannot digest it in a collective stomach. No man can use his lungs to breathe for another man. No man can use his brain to think for another. All the functions of body and spirit are private. They cannot be shared or transferred.”

    Our readers are all individuals, and should be treated that way. Make your blog like a conversation – well, more like a monologue – with your reader. Notice: I said reader, not readers.

    Excellent post.

    • Brett, thank you for the kind words and for adding value here! That quote from The Fountainhead is an excellent addition to this post!

      This problem — mistakenly creating content for “numbers” instead of humans — is a direct result of technological advancement. Prior to things like television, radio, and the Internet, we had to create for humans. When we wrote a letter, we knew it was going to be read by a single human.

      I’m sure there are many other negative social effects advancing technology is having on us, things that we’re not even fully aware of yet. As technology and social acceptance of it marches on, there are only two things that will shine light on the negative effects and make apparent what is being lost: time and diligent open-minded observation.

      I hope we all strive to do the latter and not wait for the former!

  6. I good blogger and a good writer writes what’s in his/her heart despite the diversity of the people whom who will read. If a person perceives a human touch on one’s work, it shall be remembered, just like what you’ve did here. πŸ™‚

    • Hi Walter, thank you for the comment.

      Humans read, watch, or listen for the singular purpose of obtaining what someone else has to say. The objective of doing so may be different (entertainment, learning, research, etc.), but the end goal is always the same: To receive a piece of communication.

      Since any medium that isn’t one-on-one and face-to-face will inherently remove some of the human aspect, as you said, the more “human-like” a particular communication is, the more it stands out.

  7. This is so good Raam, not just for online communications, but offline too.

    We’re always in such a rush to fit in so many interactions that we lose the quality of the communication. We lose the art of conversation.

    It’s so rewarding to just sit with someone and listen, really listen to them.

    When I did my coaching training, I remember vividly a phrase one of the trainers said:

    “As a coach you create a pool of silence, for the client to dive into.”

    It’s a private, safe, warm pool, where they can genuinely relax and let go of whatever is troubling them. And it comes from just listening.

    We also did an exercise on listening, which was basically sit with a partner, set a timer for 3 minutes and just listen to them talk about whatever they want to talk about. Don’t interject, don’t ask questions, don’t even say “uh huh” or “I understand”, just listen, silently and fully attentively. It’s quite an enlightening experience, even when done for just 3 minutes. Some people who did that exercise felt more genuinely listened to than they’d ever done before in their lives. In just those 3 minutes!

    I love this line: We try to communicate with everybody and as a result we genuinely speak to no one.

    Early on in learning about marketing, I read that we should try to picture our ideal client/reader as a real person, give them a name, face, identity, life. And then always write just for that person, as if they were sitting opposite us having a coffee, and we were chatting and catching up like old friends.

    This post is a brilliant reminder of that. Thank you.

    Dan

    • Dan, thank you for the comment and for adding value here!

      It’s really incredible what listening can do, not only for those around us, but for ourselves! It forces us to turn off the egotistical part of our mind and forces ourselves to be a little more humble.

      I often think about how things were before the advent of modern communication — how much more people actually spoke to each other, in person, in the flesh and how more thought was placed on the words that were spoken.

      I used to gain a taste of that when I went camping alone for a few days and spoke to no one, not even myself, for several days at a time. After returning, words, interaction, and communication all felt more sacred.

      But back to your point about listening. I think if we slow down a little and try to be more present in each moment, that we automatically end up listening more carefully and our conversations become more rewarding and beneficial to both sides.

      Thank you again for extending the topic!

        • Dan,

          That’s quite an incredible feat; 17 years without speaking a word!? I’m on a slow Internet connection now, but I’ll check out the video tomorrow. Thank you for sharing!

          This reminded me of how when I was young, my parents used to have regular “no speaking” sessions — sometimes several hours long — during business road trips. We would try to use sign-language to communicate and the urge to speak would be so great. But after a few hours had passed and we were allowed to talk, we didn’t know what to say. We ended up staying quite because our minds had been purged of anything that wasn’t worth talking about!

  8. Hey Raam, thanks for writing for all of us me πŸ™‚

    As soon as an author’s focus moves from the content to how it’s perceived (is my content or work well-read, well-subscribed, famous, etc?) then it’s hard to make it genuine.

    It happens elsewhere too.. I first noticed this in those popularity contests on TV: it’s always those with the least skills and the biggest desire to become famous that leave the judges in an angry manner, while those with the skills simply walk in there and shine (i.e., they genuinely have something to offer and they know it… becoming famous is then a natural result).

    It’s a general principle I guess.

    • Hey Simeon! You’re welcome! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. πŸ™‚

      Putting too much emphasis on what others will think about our work, whatever it may be, immediately removes some of our ability to effectively connect with another human. We essentially self-sabotage our own success by worrying that we won’t make it!

  9. I just like to know someone is bothering to read, If you all commented more I’d know and talk some more. The stats just tell me how many spammers crawled my site not who actually thought it was cool.

    • Hey Guy,

      Keep in mind that 80-90% of your readers won’t bother commenting! Try engaging people through the comments on other blogs — the blog owners will likely return the favor!

  10. “We don’t create for numbers. We create for humans.”

    As I’ve worked away at my blog I’ve noticed how strong the pull is to look at the numbers. But whether it’s in my one-on-one work with clients or the groups I facilitate, I’m always working with humans. The blog is no different; it’s just a new platform.

    My work, my passion is for humans. Raam, you consistently inspire me to look deeper. Thank you.

    • I think the pull of the numbers is only there because they’re easier to understand. It’s easier to see a certain number and associate value with that. But in the end, the value doesn’t come from the numbers at all, but from each person those numbers represent.

      So, while numbers may be a useful way of charting growth, I think they’re dangerous when we associate value with them. When we’re creating or doing our work, they can easily distract us from what’s important: The humans we’re doing the work for! πŸ™‚

      Thank you for the comment, Sandi!

  11. Hey Raam I just stumbled upon your blog from somewhere (can’t really remember but glad I did) and I really enjoy your approach of blogging. It’s not like anything I’ve come across so far. This post was really good and I actually did a video talking about the same thing a month ago. It gets really bad when we writers place counters over our blogs like retail stores do and never actually take the time to understand who we’re writing for. And I think that it’s worst for us because majority of the time we’re in our homes writing so the disconnection is greater. I want to be different and focus on my readers (which right now are 0 but that’s ok lol) and add that personal touch. I’ve made it to where if someone that happens to come across my blog are in my city, lets meet up. I think this will help us become a little more human.
    But hey great post and keep up the great work. You have a new reader, a new human.

    • Hey Alyx,

      Thank you for the kind words. I too have begun putting more effort into connecting with online friends in real life. The power of those real world connections is incredible and it adds a totally different dynamic to the whole relationship.

      What you said about being at home and being disconnected is so true too! We can be writing to thousands of people, but be physically sitting alone in a room with our computer. That’s a really new phenomenon in human evolution and I don’t think our brains really know how to handle that yet! As a result, we do things like pay too much attention to the numbers and lose sight of who we’re writing for.

  12. Raam, thanks for being a voice in the wilderness of bad karma. No knocks on the “gatekeepers of esoteric cyberkinetic knowledge” (good for them), but people and their stories will never lose value. Innovations–even “quantum microchips”–will. The next new thing is still “under the sun.”

    Let me know if you’re traveling to Brazil in the future.

    • I couldn’t agree more, Mark! The next new thing will always be right here, with us, between two human beings.

      I have heard so many great things about Brazil recently and I really want to spend some time there! Perhaps I can meet you there later this year. πŸ™‚

Webmentions

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