Numbered Days

Show me a number and I’ll show you how to get anal about it. A central theme in my life since childhood. First the marks. Must-score-more-than-x, self respect at stake. Gradually it became incentivized, must-score-more-for-bike. Then the stakes were higher. Must-score-more-for-job, etc.

Then came real life, more numbers. Salary. Temperature. Odometer. Speedometer. Targets. Age.

Those around me who took up investing gladly missed sex for the Sensex. CNBC’s morning coverage was a fucking headache with that ticker refusing to cease and desist.

Quantifying removes ambiguity, probably fools people into believing that if it can be measured it can be explained, or even controlled. Wrong. It’s the other way round.

The moment I quantify anything two questions always arise in my mind

– “so where is this going to go?” and

– “what can I do to make it change?”.

The need for control, you see. The need to play God. But I KNOW that number will consume me if I track it.

Twitter followers? Nice. Hmm. How can I get some more?

Salary figure? Nice. Hmm. How can I get a lot more? (Nothing wrong with that, eh?)

Pedometer? Swell. Now how fast should I run to get that calorie count ticking?

Very soon it’s the number that drives you. It makes you set thresholds and kill yourself trying to achieve them. Once you achieve them, there is no sense of victory. It’s as hollow as Pt Chaurasiya’s favorite instrument. The mark gets set higher.

A trivial example. I recently bought a car which shows me the fuel efficiency in nice glowing real-time numbers on the dash. Now I spend the better part of my drive to work trying out different driving styles to make that number go up. 25? Great. But what if I brake late on this slope and use the momentum to navigate this turn without….etc. You get the picture. The next day if that number doesn’t touch 25, I’ll be disappointed. Citius, Altius and all that jazz.

I’m trying not to make generalizations here but surely this drama plays out in all our lives on a daily basis. Fuel efficiency for me, outperforming the market for someone else.

That number on the payslip goes up by a finite amount every year. Both numbers, before and after, are etched in our minds. But real life happens between those numbers.

Sometimes I feel like breaking free. Drive for the pleasure, work for the satisfaction, run for the exhilaration, and let those ol’ numbers keep ticking to wherever they wanna go.

This post was chosen by Blogadda as part of its Spicy Saturday picks.

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62 responses to “Numbered Days”

  1. Maimoona Rahman says :

    How do you get 60 comments on a post? Gee. Another number. :/

  2. Jayashree says :

    Very well and truly said…Its a mad mad rush for numbers out here…Congrats for getting picked by Blogadda…Well-deserved…

    for now when i pat my son to sleep counting helps ha ha….

  3. piyu says :

    So so true, we are way too obsessed about these silly numbers!

  4. vikas goel says :

    I am not at all into this number game . It’s a non issue for me . I don’t care that u already have more than 23 comments on the blog. ok , time to go back n check if my follower count has dropped . :)

  5. Rashmi Nair says :

    During my Diaper baby days! someone said that if you count a thing many times it reduces in number…may be it was just to avoid my irritating questions but Still trying it on weighing scale and it rarely works in my favor! :|
    Numbers are eerie in some way and they do rule us. I do count random things like how many times has the professor repeated “my dear friends” in a 30 min lecture… :P

  6. Sakhi says :

    Really nice post. It made me think of Einstein’s quote, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

  7. Giribala says :

    I am counting the comments on this post :-)

  8. raj says :

    Our days are numbered, aren’t they?

  9. St_Hill says :

    Nice post.

    Inspired me to update my blog after almost a year.

    http://senthilsblog.blogspot.com/2010/09/eight.html

  10. naren says :

    What a superb post! Words fail me, but Purnima Rao says it all!

    • Bhel says :

      Read this post through Naren’s tweet.

      Loved it. My favorite – “Quantifying removes ambiguity, probably fools people into believing that if it can be measured it can be explained, or even controlled. Wrong. It’s the other way round.” – I have my own reasons for liking that line, but I am interested in more detail on why you feel that way.

    • daddysan says :

      Ah yes, I tried to cover it immediately in the subsequent para. Basically control is an illusion if you’re going to get obsessed by the number. You may think you have control over that number and how it moves but by virtue of the fact that you are so invested in the number, it is the number that controls you.

      Hope I didn’t make it too confusing :)

  11. litterateuse says :

    I’ve known the extremes of this kind. The sad part is in trying to “win” these numbers, they don’t realize how they eventually lose as a person [you already mention what they lose out on].

    Before they know it, the obsession/desperation begins to show in small instances of grudges and ungraciousness; just a step away from the “I can suck up to A and walk over B to get what I want” stage – and it gets increasingly difficult to interact or for that matter even respect someone on that path.

    Nice one!

    g

    • daddysan says :

      Thanks! I know what you’re talking about. I’ve seen it happen around me and have also felt the need to do the same. Blogging about it at least helps me reflect and make the right decisions.

  12. Overrated Outcast says :

    This post is so brilliant, I’ve read it a number of times!

    (Sorry, all the good number jokes/puns were taken!)

  13. Patrix says :

    Deep down (alright, not that deep) everyone is a stat whore. It just depends what stats they are looking at. Even in my field which isn’t as numbers-based, most quant-oriented people, as Aniban points ou,t look down on qual data but ultimately that’s where the hidden (explained) variance lies.

    Great post.

    • daddysan says :

      Thank you sire. Quanti vs Quali is a sore point and quant whores like myself will always try and put numbers against insights even though we’re aware of the pitfalls you point out.

      We should be discrete discrete, not quantized discrete. :)

  14. Kris says :

    Your post about numbers reminds of a friend’s preoccupation with list and the efforts that go into finishing the tasks on the lists while forgetting/ignoring the joy in doing those tasks.

    :-)

  15. Suprateek says :

    Nail-head has been hit. Blame education for quantifying everything and trying to make everything tangible.

    It’s funny because we’re the one species that can think subjectively and evaluate something without having to break it down into numbers. I guess the trick is to break free and find solace in some sort of art form. Appreciating a sculpture or a painting or a Kurosawa film requires more subjective analysis.

    Of course, curse today’s media for turning them into numerical values as well (star ratings, points etc.).

  16. Anirban says :

    But Prem Jyotish says when you combine numerology with astrology you get an accurate chart that is more powerful for everlasting happiness.

    Jokes aside…excellent post. You have touched on one of my pet-peeves.

    The over-reliance on numbers is particularly acute in science. I wrote about it recently, but I am going to go on a tirade soon about our goes-to-11-ism fads. A thought brought up by Lord Kelvin (who was an Absolute Zero himself) that something is meaningless unless it can be quantified. Physical distance, yes? But happiness? Yes, if you’re a psychologist, apparently.

    We also have a real fascination with certain numbers (base 10, prime) that probably stems from a need to organize disorganized entities. I mean what was the big deal about the Y2K?

    ;)

    • daddysan says :

      Hahahaha Kelvin was an Absolute Zero..priceless!

      Numbers have a pivotal role in science, but as you rightly say, over-reliance will make us miss the wood for the trees. For example running a correlation. The correlation coefficient may be low but when I chart them I start to see so much that the number itself missed.

  17. aditrupz says :

    WOW, wish i could word it as brilliantly as you did :) unfortunately its feature or a flaw of human evolution to judge, compare and evaluate everything with numbers ….. Superbly written and anal-ysed :P

  18. trupz says :

    WOW, wish i could word it as brilliantly as you did :) unfortunately its feature or a flaw of human evolution to judge, compare and evaluate everything with numbers ….. Superbly written and anal-ysed :P

  19. Shrikant Joshi says :

    What? So many numbers & not one mention of the all important one? The one number we actually DO need to compare & say mine is bigger than yours? The one number that cannot be increased (unless you’re really smart) no matter how hard you try, no matter what websites you surreptitiously visit? The one number that is known to decrease consistently over time?

    I’m talking about IQ, BTW.

    Right now, I’m free of the number race. I quit my job to enjoy what I’d missed over the last three years. Thanks for a wonderful post that reinforced, and to a large extent vindicated my decision to take the sabbatical.

    Oh, and BTW, my fave number is 42. Just saying. :)

  20. pushpendra says :

    Loved the post. Usually i hate maths i have given so many times ATKT from mumbai university, still giving it and will give till my son and his son arrives. I don’t understand maths or Prof. doesn’t agree with my formulas in both the case I am in the soup.

    However, few lines have inspired that Darsheel in me, will give my 200% this time oct.2010.

    Yes, Most people whom i know are betting on my marks, results and other numbers about my exams.

    :) I won’t give up and i think even they are stubborn people…..

    Many Thanks

  21. sandeep says :

    Crap! This is the first post of yours I have ever read. Set the bar too high to read the rest of the blog methinks!! Brilliant post.

    (Still gonna read the rest of the blog).

  22. Swami says :

    Different way of looking at life – and a good one. After 40, others (and, as a consequence, you) will start counting your age, year by year!

  23. Aashish says :

    The number of comments on this post could have been more.

  24. Abhishek Asthana says :

    Statistics are metrics for a third person to measure how satisfied are you with YOUR life. Ultimately we end up playing to the gallery, all our lives. :)

    Very well written post.

    P.S: This post forced me out of my closet and coerced me to comment. Kudos. :)

  25. Nitesh Setty says :

    My general response to this would be–Abolish Math! We are so obsesses with numbers that even in a subject like literature we needed 33 to pass! Nevertheless wonderful post! love the simplicity of it.

  26. vp says :

    Great post. My biggest worry is # of unread emails in my various inboxes!

  27. Haroon Riaz says :

    Insightful. Thank you for raping the pretentiousness of the human race. I respect you for that. They need doses like these every now and then.

  28. Purnima Rao says :

    I LOVE, love, love this post. I really do. I’ve spent the better part of my life so far, going against numbers (not intentionally, subconsciously perhaps) – the right number on my bank balance sheets, the right number or age at which to get married, the ‘ideal’ number on the weighing scale. It’s scary but fun. Then scary again. Then fun.
    Did I mention I love this post?

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