How do rating systems affect our experience of human value?

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

Yesterday at the Emerging Apologists Program at the Zacharias Institute, a discussion opened up about how the growing ubiquity of rating systems is affecting the human experience.

For instance…

  • When we take an Uber or Lyft, at the end of the ride, the passenger rates the driver and the driver rates the passenger.
  • When we buy something online, we are invited to rate the product or the service we received.
  • When we go into nearly any store, we have the opportunity to rate our experience on Yelp or Google.
  • When we apply for credit, our credit score is updated and assessed before we are approved.

And so on and so forth. If you are a fan of Black Mirror, a near-future, dystopian TV show on Netflix, one episode explored this habit becoming even more widespread:

Lacie (Bryce Dallas Howard) lives in a version of America where every tiny interaction is ranked by the people involved on an app that syncs with augmented-reality contact lenses (or retinal implants, it’s unclear). The minute you see someone you can also see their ranking, meaning that reality has morphed into a pastel-colored nightmare of aggressive cheeriness, as citizens attempt to out-nice each other and bump up their ratings.

We may not be there yet, but it also doesn’t seem that far away.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How do you see the growing presence of rating systems changing our experience of what it means to be human?

  2. What conversations could you start with friends about this trend?

  3. What resources does Christianity offer to process and engage with these systems?

(SeanO) #2

@CarsonWeitnauer Great question! Taking this a step further, in China people can be get a social credit score based on their behavior through monolithic apps like QQ and WeChat. These apps are used for everything from banking to buying food to chatting - they are mega apps. And that credit score can be used to alter the price you pay at restaurants or whether you can get a loan. In a sense, that social credit score determines your worth. It is almost like a caste system based on past behavior and, inevitably, wealth.

I understand the motivation behind these systems - no one wants to lend money to someone that is not trustworthy. But I think there is one very important Biblical concept that comes into play here - the year of Jubilee. In the year of Jubilee, debts were forgiven and family land was restored - slaves were set free and past histories erased. I think Jubilee is a beautiful picture of grace and that somehow it could speak into these systems of social credit - is there a time for wiping someone’s past history if they turn a new leaf?

Here is one powerful quote about these social credit systems, though one may debate it is slightly overstated (the author does not like these systems much): “The major issue is this: the SCS goes well beyond just rating ones ability to manage debt; in essence, it puts a number on a citizen rating their worth as a human being — and it forces others to respect that rating.”

(Tim Behan) #3

Hi all,

Just a quick jump in from me, but great topic @CarsonWeitnauer so I couldn’t leave it alone. This is obviously just my opinion, but I think it’s a terrible state for the world to be in, personally. Especially at a time when “self-worth”, “self-expression”, self-esteem", and basically self-everything is the focus. I think realistically this is going to lead to more and more depression and probably worse throughout the world as people get rated lower than they thought they might, or for some perceived slights or whatever reason. I just can’t see this ending well.

HOWEVER… and this is a big however… I also think the opportunity for Christians here is immense. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that there will be no-one who gets a “perfect” ranking in whatever system or scheme people come up with. But this is a concept that Christianity has not only been saying for millennia (Rom 3:10 “There is no one righteous, not even one”), but Christianity has the only escape. Once you’ve lost that “perfect score” there is no way to dig yourself out of it. But we know that we have the saving grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus that brings us out of that state and we are made righteous through him and him alone.

So while I think it’s a sad state of affairs that we push for and almost thrive on ratings in some way or another… I think it’s a God-given insight into human nature that we all know that we’ve fallen short in some way shape or form. This gives us as we share the good news of Jesus an almost perfect gift-wrapped opportunity to explain the saving grace that doesn’t come by works, but by faith in the one who saved us.

I’m sorry if that ended up being ‘preachy’ in some way. Started to get really into it. :slight_smile: I’ll leave you with that and I’m looking forward to hearing others’ thoughts.

(Brittany Bowman) #5

Thanks, @CarsonWeitnauer for sharing this post. I’ll admit its still a bit over my head, but it did cause me to see a few neat parallels in everyday life.

Although it is somewhat terrifying to imagine the directions technologies like @SeanO _O shared, I do wander if this has not always been human nature. For example, people today tend to live near others in the same socioeconomic status, which could in some ways be similar to a rating system.

I felt convicted in the area of social media. I’ve discussed with several students’ our tendency to post information we anticipate will give us many likes, which can create a vicious cycle of seeking to move up in the analytics of Facebook and ranking of peers by migrating into a “group think” mentality. Even in my communications classes, we are taught large companies should seek “key influencers,” people with a large number of followers. Such practices have convicted me of creating a class system without even realizing it, and it concerns me to think of how much I am allowing the information I share to be morphed by others’ opinions.

I had never considered what it meant to be human, so I did what every good millennial would do, and I googled it, haha. Ravi Zacharias’ quote came up, “What does it mean to be human? It means we are created in the image of God for the glorious reality of being in permanent fellowship with Him.” Interestingly, I discussed this with a friend just two days before, and the look of shock, awe, and realization on their face was so amazing I didn’t know what I had said.

This prompt helped me process more what happened. This person had come to me several times after social media caused them to question their self-worth, but I didn’t know what to say. Abdu Murray describes a similar situation in his book, “Saving Truth,” but I didn’t think it would happen the first time I told someone that in my own life. Interestingly, this person had been consistently going to church for over a year and apparently hadn’t heard their value defined in such straight-forward terms. If it takes a broken rating system to cause people’s hearts to start searching for a greater value, then let us as apologists be ready!

(Jimmy Sellers) #6

When I was younger the question of the day was “What do you want most from your life (career)?” The number one answer was a to have a sense of worth or value. I don’t think much has changed over the years people still what to know that they have value that their life will make an impression on their family and friends. In the context of a career everyone wants to contribute, to be a pioneer, to be missed when they are gone. In my day this took time. What took years and the living of a life to confirm worth has, in my opinion, been short circuited with “likes”, “loyalty points”, “followers”, “credit scores”, ”IQ” and a host of other metrics none of which really addresses what is at the core of this desire, (if I were a Buddhist I say cravings). I think everyone in connect would agree that deep down in our very souls we are created for relationships and this relationship and the value or worth that we want is confirmed by the God of the Bible through the Gospel. My thoughts. :blush:

PS: I now know what has been annoying me lately, “aggressive cheeriness”. :blush:

(Carson Weitnauer) #7

Hi friends, thank you for the stimulating reflections!

@SeanO, I had no idea the idea had gone that far - to see the idea in Black Mirror is one thing; to see that it is an in-progress government program in China is another!

It seems that we are all agreed that clarifying, recording, measuring, and comparing one another by a single, socially-generated number is an illegitimate basis for human identity. We can see the immense power of this technology to break people’s lives and the subsequent opening the gospel may have to show a better way of providing the experience of value and worth we all have as God’s image bearers.

I wonder what positive contributions Christians can make to this discussion? For instance, I do find value in the aggregated and individual customer reviews when doing online shopping, considering a new restaurant, or taking a ‘taxi’ ride somewhere. In general, I think having access to other people’s opinions have really helped me make better decisions about what to buy - and what not to buy.

At the same time, as @Brittany_Bowman1 points out, how much have we been affected by others without realizing it? False, negative reviews may have torpedoed the sales of truly excellent products and companies that are now out of business. Inflated positive reviews may have misled us to buy inferior products at inflated prices without realizing the alternatives we never considered.

Once we become accustomed to rating products and services, the habit is in place to rate each other. As the technology advances and it becomes easier and simpler to rate even the briefest interaction, we will face the technological imperative: “If it can be done, it must be done.” To not rate someone could be seen as an injustice - you are withholding data from us! Without your rating, we might make bad loans or offer jobs to an unqualified individual!

I can see some platforms phasing out the relevance of older ratings in favor of your current + three months prior ratings. This could give many people a fresh start. But…

  • How will this affect the elderly? It doesn’t seem like you’ve contributed very much recently…
  • Will this create pressure to always be on? I can’t “rest on my laurels” but need to keep performing.

I can also see ways that social ratings could strengthen churches. If church members are more gracious and kind in their rating systems, then their members might be more enabled to flourish in a world where your social score is increasingly important. Every Sunday you get “topped off” with a few hundred five-star reviews!

There are also ways in which a social score could enhance inclusion of people. If you don’t have a financial background, but you are well-respected by your network, then you have a means of accessing capital. This could enable you to open a business, etc. and have a better life than would otherwise be possible.

There will have to be accommodations for tragedies. Along the lines of the dominos that fall in the Black Mirror episode - will this mean that if you get into a car accident, does your score plummet, you lose your job, you can’t pay your bills, your score drops further, you are evicted from your home, your score drops, your kids are taken away by the government? There will need to be safeguards built in to keep one small thing from escalating into a disaster.

Another approach could be to give extra weight to people who help other people increase their scores. If your involvement in other people’s lives means that their scores consistently go up, then your own score improves. By rewarding service and collaboration, such a system could motivate many more to pursue the good of others and not just of themselves. This will lead to a challenging ethic: what does it mean to volunteer if you know that your social score is likely to go up a certain number of points?

What will it look like to pursue humility, servanthood, and authenticity in a world where your social score is everything?

Or could we go along the lines of the European Union and the recently enforced GDPR regulations? In addition to the right to privacy and the right to be forgotten, will we decide that there is also the right to not be socially scored? The right to change?

And in the meantime, how will we engage in these systems - or opt-out of them?