If Facebook and Twitter are the recreational party drugs of this era, then realtime website analytics programs are like oxycontin, crack, PCP, meth and uncut Red Bull all blended into a combustible concoction that is self-administered via a slow but constant ethernet-to-intravenous drip.
The blogger or site owner that has fallen prey to this virtual substance abuse is almost immediately at its mercy. If overusing Twitter is like sneaking a second glass of wine with dinner, web stats abuse is like the lonely and hopeless, foamy-mouthed, dirty needle dangling from the arm, nonstop plunge to the grimy basement of a heroin den. Playing catch with the kids? Watching some TV with your spouse? Work, social life, personal hygiene? Everything comes second to your insatiable desire for just one more fix. Waterboard me and you’ll get nothing. But stand next to my wall outlet with your fingers placed threateningly around my airport express and I’ll serve up my cash, my family and my country without hesitation. Just don’t pull the plug. I need, I need.
My name is Dave Pell. And I’m a web analytics junkie.
Most of the time, my habit is a pretty sad endeavor. A handful of first-time users here, a collection of repeat readers there. But that’s what puts me at the very center of the at-risk population. The addiction is partly about one’s painstaking wait for an escape from the flatline — those glorious bumps when several websites post links driving a deluge of visits to your site.
And then it happens. The hits roll in and the numbers rise. Ping. Ping. Ping. A few hundred. A few thousand. You’re peaking. You’re tweaking. You’re viral. The wave of readership washes over you and you don’t dare allow a single blink of your red, glazed eyes for fear of missing even one hit. You’re accelerating into the zone of peak experiences where so few have tread. There’s Springsteen on stage in Jersey belting out Born to Run. There’s Obama on election night in Hyde Park. There’s Joe Montana with less than a minute left and a championship on the line. There’s Moses looking back as the Red Sea collapses on Pharaoh’s army. And there’s you in your undershorts, fists pumping in the air, awash in the glory of the coming of the traffic.
You want the world to know. You can’t believe people are calmly waiting at the bus stop or shopping at the market or acting as responsible members of society. You hold your laptop above your head like Cusak did with the boom box in Say Anything and you wonder how differently your friends and family and the all those other poor suckers would react to your blogging “hobby” if they had even the slightest hint of the kinds of numbers you’re doing right now. You imagine your Oscar-esque acceptance speech. I’d like to thank my friend Mordy for being my first visitor, my wife for proofreading, and my parents for telling me that if I believed in myself, I could be anything (OK, so they were probably thinking doctor or rabbi…).
And then, delusion sets in. Locked on the screen, your eyes don’t wander but your mind does. You convince yourself that these thousands of new visitors will sign up for your Facebook fan page, follow your Tweets and subscribe to your RSS feed. They aren’t just passing through. They love you. You’re Vito Corleone gaining strength in your hospital bed and they’re your son Michael and they grab your hand and say, “Just lie here, Pop. I’ll take care of you now. I’m with you now. I’m with you.” They will fixate on your words and retweet, requote and regurgitate material directly from your unconscious. They have become an extension of your mind. Yes, yes, oh god, yes.
But trust me on this. Just say no.
Because gravity is real. Gravity doesn’t care that you’ve had a taste of traffic’s sweet nectar and now you need more and more to satisfy the craving. For most, the traffic won’t last forever. The thousands of visitors will dwindle to hundreds and on down the chart. Gravity will mock the the fresh memory of your highest of highs and will mercilessly slam your traffic stats and your entire being down, face-first with a dust-raising thud, leaving you limp, lifeless, dry-mouthed and wrecked; a quivering, lonely slab of flesh on the sun-cracked shoulder of the information highway.
I’d like to say there’s a cure — that by the time you read this I’ll be focusing on more important things. But that would be a lie. My clenched fists, broken like a boxer’s from years of pounding this keyboard, will prop up my chin as I watch and wait for just one more bump.
So come on by. I’ll be on right here on the other side of this screen. If it takes two minutes or two years, I’ll be waiting. And who knows, maybe this will be the post that sends me back into the rapture.