Far from a numerical fetish, what we are witnessing are changing conceptions of merit itself.
This is, roughly speaking, the transition from the model of
* the profound scholar (i.e., one whose work is valued because it is "deep," regardless of -- and possibly even in inverse correlation to--its popularity); to
* the productive scholar (i.e. one who is valued for producing a great deal, in the way that a better factory produces more widgets per unit of time); to
* the nodal scholar (i.e., the scholar who is valued because of their presence at the center of a network). I use the term "nodal," because you can imagine each citation to be a one-way link from one node in a network to another. The scholars with the most citations are the dominant nodes in the network.