When and Why do we clap? The signal/noise of clap: Where is Medium heading?

Spot on, Mrinal-da! Spot on.

I have experienced and viewed Medium as a place to write, read, and share thoughts. Thoughts: deep, shallow, simple, complex, codes, non-codes, listicles, what-to-do, how-tos. OK, admittedly some are verbal diarrhoea, where tete-a-tete would not be encouraged, as everyone with individual thoughts gets his or her own space (as all comments are your own space to write). Therefore, long form, deep conversation (if there is any intent in conversation at all) is where Medium would position themselves.

Let us examine if clap as a metaphor of instantaneous liking fits into that larger scheme of things, or if by using claps, Medium is pushing us to a new direction. I suspect they are.

I begin with the assumption that writing is neither a spectator sport, nor a “performing art”. The context where claps are commonplace are dinner speech, musical performance, games of tennis, a quiet day in the cricket field. It is defined by momentariness. We clap for that momentary tennis stroke, a moving dialogue, a piece of wit on the stage, a musical performance, a ballet, a theatrical act; I could go on, but the gist is, that something that is momentary and instantaneous that influences our mind, we clap for it. Evanescence is the key here.

We do not clap for the entire play, nor do we clap for the entire tennis match, or the drama performance. Even while watching a sport, we do not clap if we are watching a game of chess (you can watch game of chess on the Internet), or when we are playing bridge, or write a clever word in Scrabble. What distinguishes these from an action sport is that these moves are deep, thoughtful, activities. You do not clap for the manifestation of something that is deep and thoughtful. You applause or appreciate in other ways. If it touches your heart, you acknowledge it, in silence.

Writing, at its heart, is a solo, thoughtful, process. We can collaborate to write individual segments, but even then, the “individual” pieces are solo, slow process, it evolves over time, such is the nature of thought processes, expression of our world view.

How often have you visited a photo gallery, stood mesmerised in the middle of the gallery and have actually clapped? How often you watch a sculpture and clap? How often you visit a museum and clap as you watch the displays?

Last month I was in Sistine Chapel in Rome. Hundreds of people have passed through the ornate corridors of the Vatican Museum on their way to the Sistine chapel, in silent procession. Laid all around us were precious, no, invaluable artworks and creations of people who imagined the world as it was then, and gave us their best. We absorbed all of it, in our “hearts” we knew that we could connect to it. Not a person “clapped”.

Clapping is a momentary, transient, gut reaction to something that overwhelms us. There is rapid clapping and there is slow clapping. Rapid fast clapping is our momentary reaction of an audience to the performer. It just says applause. Slow clapping is insulting, slow clapping signals that the audience did not like what they saw. Clapping can be premature or clapping can be after the performance. Premature clapping shows our anger towards the performance, the fact that we did not like what we saw or heard. A prolonged fast clapping (equivalent of keeping the “clap” sign pressed in Medium) is our expression of approval. A prolonged slow clapping is our sign of disapproval.

Coming back to the Medium, the notion of clapping is intriguing. What does Medium want us to do? Treat Medium like a transient, evanescent experience? What was wrong with the notion of “heart”? Ev Williams talks about metrics. You can understand, he is a quant guy. There may be some metric value to the number of claps, claps per view, the distribution of claps, and other metrics that you wouldn’t perhaps get if you were to be limited by “hearts” which would signify how many “individuals” have taken to “heart” and decided to “share” what you had written; here, the intensity of their likeness would also add extra information. However, it is not clear to me what those extra information would do to my writing in the end? Is Medium supporting the notion we play to the gallery? Write for more and more claps?

I don’t know. There are many unanswered and unanswerable questions about shifting to “clap” than sticking to the old heart. It possibly signifies that Medium wants us to treat deep, thoughtful pieces in the same vein as we should treat shallow, funny posts. Or it may be that they are signalling a new metric for measuring engagement.

Intriguing. Uncanny.

Please do not “clap” this article. I won’t like it!

Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Also in: https://refind.com/arinbasu

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store