The Numbers We Track How They Help Us

Humans are nothing more than trackers. We like to monitor information about anything.

I remember Antoine Fuqua’s Equation, in which Denzel Washington’s character is portrayed obsessively determining the timing of almost everything he does: how long it takes him to wash dishes, leave the house, eat, take the bus, and, uh, kill the bad guys.

I remember that this guy went overboard with his “measurements” but, given the things that people follow today with their Apple digital watches and all that, Robert McCall’s behavior now seems pretty normal.

Today we keep track of everything from heart rate, steps, blood sugar, skin temperature, sleep duration, menstruation, semen levels, alertness, number of times we sneeze, even bacterial makeup in our stools (yes, some people follow things that).

You have the feeling that if something can be calculated, it will be seen and displayed somewhere in a graph or table. And anything that cannot be measured will be given a number because, why not?

But why do we do this? What is this human need to follow everything in life?

I guess the answer is not as simple as, oh, what is measured will do. In this view, for life to improve, we need to look at how these variables evolve (or regress) over time.

Tracking also allows us to make any necessary changes without delay. For example, some people are able to self-diagnose a particular disease based on the variables they track, or at least immediately see a doctor because reading a month’s sleep patterns indicates something is not.

And they are not just the coordinates of our physical and mental selves. Now more and more people are starting to track things like their movements from room to room in the office, their GPS location, their feelings in relation to selected situations (!), Their incoming and outgoing emails as well as phone calls. , the number of editions made while writing this novel or doctoral thesis, etc.

Here is a “quantized self”, where every iota of our body and mind can be displayed on an Excel sheet.

Of course, when we keep track of all these numbers, there is no question that improvements can be made. But could there be another reason that is more wrong? Could it be that people have a habit of snooping just because they can?

Could it be that millions of people are starting to believe that measuring the number of steps they take each day is important because Fitbit allows them to do it and says it should be done? Honestly, how many people can report dramatic changes in their lives as a result of tracking variables that their ancestors could not do?

Do not confuse. Of course, if you use this Garmin or Withings device and get your daily and weekly Heart Rate Variability (HRV) readings that you balance, don’t let me tell you not to use them. He was knocked out. But have you considered differentiating between using it and not using it?

Because information is not neutral and is rare without its drawbacks.

It’s time we believe that information can only help and won’t make things worse, but I suggest it’s worth rethinking. Sometimes knowing something can change the situation in unnecessary and unnecessary ways. A few simple examples will suffice.

Bring a child to enjoy his favorite toy car … until he sees another child playing with a more flashy Ferrari. This “new” information changes your excitement over your existing toy, the momentum begins and we know what happens next.

Or choose a nursery that introduces webcams in the classroom, so that parents can now watch their children from the comfort of their desks. It sounds like a great marketing and a high-value product so parents start feeling unnecessarily anxious when they see their child a little quiet at 2 pm. This “extra” information bothers the mother or father relentlessly when in reality there is almost nothing to worry about; The boy is tired.

Another example I can think of is when my boss asks for daily information to confirm that all emails sent have been sent to the intended recipient. When I gave this information, everyone was excited …

I try and always fail to tell my friends not to check the KLSE every three hours. This is the worst type of tracking information because a person’s mood can be put into the express pot without interruption – that is, it is emotionally healthier NOT to know.

And I can only imagine that someone suddenly sees an unpleasant reading on HRV or a deep sleep reading. Of course, some of these things can be important and serious, but how many of them are just sounds that cause panic?

Information can be like sugar: useful to some degree, but dangerous (and even dangerous?) After a few seconds.

Take the craze for the number of Covid-19 positive cases in recent months. Should millions of Malaysians fall into social networking hysteria around 5 pm every day when the Ministry of Health announces its decision?

Seriously, what’s the harm of NOT seeing a Covid-19 case every day? In fact, it has reached a point where to this day, when more than 94 percent of Malaysian adults have been vaccinated, the public is still worried about daily cases.

Honestly, this is not useful for a population that is almost completely vaccinated; in endemic conditions, the number infected should no longer matter.

Flooding 24/7 feeds on social media are, of course, another example of extreme input. There is no denying that the mental health crisis of our country is partly due to a large number of posts, graphics, and tweets (interesting but ultimately useless and cumulatively useless) that the average Malay consumes on a daily basis.

So, not all information is useful, even if it is supposedly “relevant”.

Now apply all this to our tracking phenomenon. At what point will our daily readings, and whatnot, be changed from making useful decisions to the digital equivalent of excess carbohydrates?