I am not a number

Growing up, my favorite show was The Prisoner. The import from England had the tagline, “I am not a number. I am a free man.” Unfortunately, if Number Six were around today, he would find he is a number. Or, more correctly, a set of numbers.

Statistics and algorithms have become the defining element of the early 21st century. We can and do collect data about every part of our lives, so we do. Between smartwatches and smartphones, we measure our lives n more ways than we can count (yes, that was intended). The ease of technology comes at the cost of being reduced to a data set.

  • My truck records how many miles and how many hours I have driven.
  • Grammarly keeps track of every word I write and sends a report at the beginning of the week (which informs me I still don’t know how to use a comma).
  • Fitness apps track workouts, calories, and minutes.
  • Even meditation apps ask you to track your mood and the number of times in a row that you have spent time meditating.

Dave Eggers takes this on in his recent The Every, but as outrageous as parts of it may seem, you realize that it is already here (or will be soon).

Even if you try and live in an analog world with paper and pen, users of bullet journals are encouraged to track their habits, exercise, sleep and anything else that ‘they really care about.’ Writing advice to write every day is accompanied by charts and spreadsheets to measure how many words, time, or days in a row you have spent writing. Readers are encouraged to keep track and rate through sites like Goodreads (“Goodbye Goodreads”)

I will not start in the way that statistics have dominated research in social sciences. But, unfortunately, it seems that the ‘quantoids’ have won the battle, so those of us that prefer the deep methodology of cases and history are relegated to academia’s backwaters.

Rather than “Dry January,” I am starting on ‘No Count New Year’ to escape from the tyranny of trackers. So this month, I am focusing on what I need to count and why? I don’t know where this will lead, but I hope it will be a humanistic way to live my life.

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