Othello is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, not because I am macabre or inclined to tragedy, but the layers of depth and psychology illustrated by the characters is astounding and continues to offer new insights as I study it. Iago, the devilish antagonist of the story, has long enchanted audiences with his frightening ability to plant horrible ideas into the heads of his victims and create mayhem for no apparent reason. I consider him the hipster of Inception.
One such moment is when Cassio, a military leader and friend to the great Othello, realizes he has done something stupid and he blames himself and mourns the inevitable consequences of his choices. "Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!" Iago sneers back at him, "As I am an honest man, I thought you had received some bodily wound. There is more sense in that than in reputation. Reputation is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit and lost without deserving. You have lost no reputation at all unless you repute yourself such a loser."
Basically what I hear Iago hissing is something like, "You nit wit! Reputation is a stupid and meaningless cultural symbol that can be made and broken at will. You are an idiot because you chose to be, not because you've lost some irreplaceable and precious part of yourself." This rendition of reputation is to me, extraordinarily complex. Is reputation a tangible or even singular thing? Or can it come and go on a whim?
I am finishing up a biography on George Washington, and it is obvious that he would vote for the former of these two thoughts. He spent his whole life grooming his reputation, keeping his records impeccably organized for future generations to digest, and always responded to challenging problems in a way that would sustain or improve his unparalleled reputation. His character and image have stood the test of time greater than any other American I can think of, and he was known for his reputation in his own time and ours - being the only U.S. President to be unanimously voted into office. Twice. This was a man who knew the power of his image could have, as long has his carefully guarded reputation remained in tact.
I recently finished the "Uglies" Series which ends with Extras, a story about a teen residing in a "reputation society". There is no money, no traditional advertising, no financial markets. Everything is based on the stories you "kick" and how many people follow your posts and mention your name. The Kickers share lots of similarities to social media professionals of our day such as George Takei, Stuart Edge, or one of the many influential Mommy Bloggers. The more people who digitally follow you and "re-kick" your stories the higher you rise in the city rankings. That ranking is like the currency of the community, once your ranking breaks certain landmark numbers you can simply walk into a bigger house and announce you are moving in and the computer of the home will reset everything to your preferences.
Interesting, right? We still use and love money, but the power of influence has been utilized for a long time. Star power as an advertising mechanism is not new. However, it is changing in our connected and infobese world. There is a dark side to using celebrities to "kick" your product out the masses, as Samsung must know by now after actions from Ellen and LeBron.
Interestingly enough Extras predates Klout, a San Fransisco tech start-up all about measuring your influence on the web and rewarding you for increasing your rank or score.
Klout "is a website and mobile app that uses social media analytics to rank its users according to online social influence via the "Klout Score", which is a numerical value between 1 and 100. In determining the user score, Klout measures the size of a user's social media network and correlates the content created to measure how other users interact with that content" (thanks Wikipedia). Basically, Klout is a mini version of the society in Extras and the higher your Klout score is the more "perks" and benefits you are offered from Klout's partners. On Klout's website it states: "Klout Perks are exclusive rewards you earn because of the impact you have online. Every day, Klout users receive amazing products, special discounts, and VIP access because of their influence in certain topics." This sounds really cool, but at the same time I wonder about what the impact of such a program can have. Already there is a huge disparity between income, education levels, crime-rate, and other factors in America. Could one's Klout score (or something like that) become yet another thing that sets this chasm even wider?
In an interview with Businessweek, Klout's Co-Founder Joe Fernandez explains: "The Klout score is supposed to be a way to compare and digest what that influence means. We’re doing something controversial, and we know that . . . We’re helping you craft that persona that you’re trying to be online." I wonder about the millions who are not online, or who are but are so helplessly addicted to looking at cats and their own FaceBook profiles. I guess they are just the crowd of folks waiting to be influenced by the reputation of the Klout Kings.
I had an account on Klout. After thinking about it (probably too much) I decided to disconnect from the site and stop looking at my score. Was this a smart decision? Does it matter? I don't really know. If I was looking for a job in social media then this would have been a deal breaker.
What do you think? Am I being too pessimistic and weird about how Klout is measuring influence and online reputation? What do you believe about reputation in a connected world?
I am a graduate student in Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University. I enjoy writing, hiking, and spending time with my family.