The Touch of the User

A click, a scroll, a like — what is our touch worth?

Published June 5, 2023

The value of our touch varies depending on the context. Just like the intention of our touch differs. A click on an ad has a different intention than opening an app. To touch is to be a user—to generate value, to receive value. This exchange occurs within the touch.

The value of our touch is unknown to us. We cannot determine the value we generate when we open an app, when we watch an ad, when we submit ourselves as a daily user. Users instead weigh the worth of their touch based on the value they receive, compared against the unknown value that it delivers. By now, users know to vote with their click, but they do not know the value of their vote. It isn’t a 1-1 structure, and they don’t know precisely what their usership gives to a major media corporation.

How badly do they want my touch, my time? What are they willing to do in order to get it?

We stand to lose a lot in this trade: we give our data, our thoughts, our words, our image, our location. And, many times, we accept the trade we are given. We receive a platform, a method of communication, a way to express or present ourselves, an avenue to maintain our relationships with those whom we want to stay connected.

Alas, we don’t know what happens on the other side; what could be done with all the information we relinquish. This strikes an uneasiness in the user— Twitter knows me, but I don’t know them. Our data, our digital selves, gets swept up into the vortex of hardrives and data storage. We surrender our access to it, and hold little power in how it can be used or exploited.

There is more transparency within the user ecosystem. We are able to see how many likes, views, followers, or subscribers each user has. The value we create for each other is more easily quantifiable. When I follow someone, I understand what I am giving to them, and what I receive from my contribution. Furthermore, these trades are transitory, they can be withdrawn at any time. Trade over. These same metrics don’t translate on an institutional level—we do not know how much value our usership generates for a corporation. We cannot relinquish the data we give, all we can do is renounce our usership.

This forces to the user into corner, where they can either inflate or deflate the value of their touch. If you disagree with Elon’s politics, you can:

1. Deactivate your Twitter account to cease the transaction


2. Sustain your usership, resolving that the impact of your usership is meagre, and you enjoy some of the benefits received from using the app.

We are aware that this is not a fair trade, and yet, it feels as though we have little choice.

If users try to develop an awareness of the weight of their vote-by-touch— the value of their usage, their interaction—then we often observe the same voter fatigue that we might see in any other kind of election (Everyone is leaving Twitter... but, do they?) This is intensified by the fact that there is no transparency in the value that the user generates through their usership.

If I don’t agree with the way my data is being handled, I resign my account, never knowing how my impact will be felt. Wondering, hoping, that my followers will notice my absence when I’m gone. I bequeath myself to the digital dirt, leaving behind the ghost of my data to collect virtual dust, the worth of which I am uncertain of, but is longer mine to assign value. The current user economy conceals our own worth from us.

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USURPATOR is an online magazine sharing essays and interviews about the user experience of our current virtual landscape

Run by @hard_boiledbabe