Every day is its own mystery, but some deliver greater revelations than others. To wit: I did not expect when I started scanning my Twitter feed this morning that the true meaning of Michele Bachmann's recent declaration that Obama's Syria policy proves we are living in the End Times would be explained by an essay on page-view analytics.
The essay "Whither the Pageview Apocalypse?" by Brian Abelson, an OpenNews fellow at the New York Times, does not actually include Bachmann among his Heinrich Heine, Jacques Derrida and T.S. Elliot name-checks. But that's what Salon is here for: to connect the apocalyptic dots between Web traffic measurement and wacko House Republicans.
Abelson starts with a question: Why are so many Web analytics companies preaching the death of the page view? There is at least one obvious reason: Page views aren't a very satisfactory way to judge how well your website is doing. But that doesn't tell the whole story. And it doesn't explain at all why, when you examine traffic reports from the very analytics companies that are shouting "the end of the page view" gospel the loudest, up-front and center, argues Abelson, are page-view numbers.
If, as I’ve been led to believe, this is a post-pageview world, then we must be living in a zombie apocalypse as I’m relentlessly haunted by the metric’s lifeless corpse.
So far, so geeky, and probably only of real interest to those of us who live or die by our page views. But then Abelson swerves deliciously into an analysis of the entire "The END of X" rhetorical framework, borrowing heavily from Jacques Derrida’s 1982 essay "Of an Apocalyptic Tone Newly Adopted in Philosophy."
In this essay, Derrida endeavors to explain why philosophers have become so infatuated with declaring the end of whatever it is that they are obsessed with. Forty years later, we're all too familiar with this semantic device. The end of history, the end of hip-hop, the end of authenticity, the end of (my favorite) journalism, the end of ... page views?
Abelson translates Derrida's excursion into apocalyptic etymology far better than I can, but the gist is that apocalyptic rhetoric is inseparable from promised revelation of a better way to come. Apocalyptism is really, at bottom, an act of seduction.
Doomsayers do not merely seek acknowledgement of an end-to-come or one that has already passed, they are more concerned with seducing you into accepting the terms on which their continued existence, their vested interests, and their vision of ‘the end’ are all equally possible. It’s not that analytics platforms are flawed, they say, it’s simply that you’re not paying attention to the right parts; It’s not that insights are difficult, they promise, it’s that you’ve been going about finding them in the wrong way.
Point taken. Which brings us to Bachmann.
Over the weekend the congresswoman from Minnesota told a Christian radio service that Obama's supposed authorization of selling arms to al-Qaida terrorists in Syria (he actually did nothing of the sort) "proves we are in God's End Times."
This happened and as of today the United States is willingly, knowingly, intentionally sending arms to terrorists,” she said. “Now what this says to me, I’m a believer in Jesus Christ, as I look at the End Times scripture, this says to me that the leaf is on the fig tree and we are to understand the signs of the times, which is your ministry, we are to understand where we are in God’s End Times history.”
“Rather than seeing this as a negative, we need to rejoice, Maranatha Come Lord Jesus, His day is at hand,” Bachmann added. “When we see up is down and right is called wrong, when this is happening, we were told this; these days would be as the days of Noah.”
Yay! Big flood coming! Lots of death and destruction!
Come on! Could the seduction of the apocalypse be any clearer? Rejoice! The Day of Judgment is at hand! The blessed will be raptured, and the rest of you, you sinners, you Obama voters, you Obamacare lovers, your doom is at hand. But wait, there's still time, if you repent now!
Derrida nailed it.
Abelson finishes with a recommendation that applies much more broadly than to just his chosen Web analytics domain. Like, perhaps, to those voters who chose to jump on the Tea Party apocalypse train.
So, instead of worrying about whether we’re measuring the wrong things, or using the wrong tools or software, or falling behind the competition, let’s take a deep breath, ignore the doomsayers, and do the best we can with what we have right now. And, if after a while, that’s still not working, then perhaps we should reassess precisely why, in what manner, and by whom we were convinced that analytics would solve our problems in the first place.