Five stats to better measure the value of the internet

By Joseph Flaherty

I think tech cynicism has taken hold in part because we can’t fully measure many of its benefits. CAC, LTV, and ARR are well understood, so I want to propose a few new metrics that capture the bounties of the internet — Consider:

👶 DIAPER

💄 GLAM

🎨 ART

🧂 SALT BAE

💍 I DO

What is the improvement in human happiness caused by ready access to cell phone cameras and the ability to capture more spontaneous moments of your child’s life?

Imagine a working parent pre-camera phone. What would they pay for a video that captures their child’s first steps or utterance? Probably quite a lot — and more as time passed. History has value but we barely know how to value it.

This stat notes the success of folks like Michelle Phan, a talented aesthetician whose career ceiling pre-YouTube (as an FL-based art school dropout) might have been owning a salon — now she’s a bonafide celeb/founder.

The concept of “meritocracy” has come under fire in recent years, but there is no debate that the internet helps sort people into careers they would have never dreamed of in a less networked world.

The cumulative time spent looking at art online — even just on Instagram — is orders of magnitude greater than the amount of time spent looking at art at all of the world’s museums in a given year pre-internet.

The internet has breathed new life into moribund crafts like calligraphy and elevated dance to a cultural centrality it hasn’t enjoyed since the 1930s. Folks who would have died unknown outside their social circles become legends in their own time while enriching our lives.

People used to get a psychic boost from winning a blue ribbon at a 4H fair or having their wedding announcement validated by the NYT. Now, that kind of recognition is available to anyone with a TikTok.

The internet has made Charli D’Amelio and Doggface household names, but it’s also given random Redditors, Yelp power users, and other online personas spheres of influence and opportunities for peer appreciation that adds flavor to one’s life.

Early data suggest that the efficient matchmaking enabled by internet dating is leading to longer, happier unions. The “assortative mating” enabled by the internet could have a species-wide impact.

Joseph Henrich of Harvard has convincingly written how rules laid out by the Catholic church shaped the destiny of Western Europe, and as a result, the world. We’re likely only seeing the beginning of how apps are altering our civilization.

I lack the econometric aptitude to turn these metrics into viable measures. Still, that doesn’t mean they’re not real, meaningful, and worthy of consideration as we hold tech accountable for its legitimate shortcomings.

Tech is a powerful force for good in our world, and it’s improved the baseline quality of life in ways that are hard to capture in numbers. We know that “what’s measured gets managed,” but I hope that what’s appreciated also gets amplified.

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