I like numbers. I like the objectivity, malleability and simplicity that numbers offer. The fact that I’m writing this blog indicates that I’m a communication and media studies student, but what you may not know is that I’m also studying finance and accounting. I do this because I’ve always had this interest in how numbers can work for you.
Any book, from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ or ‘The Bible’, to ‘Spot Goes to the Beach’, even this blog, can be broken down to just twenty six symbols. Anything that’s ever been seen on a computer screen is comprised of a series of ones and zeros (including this YouTube reading of Spot Goes to the Beach). It’s no surprise then, that numbers can be used to represent much larger ideas.
Last year, I delivered pizza to houses more than a thousand times. Dominos now tracks each delivery I make, and can analyse this data to benefit their business. Andy Rubin, the co-founder of Android has recently announced his desire to give free dashcams to consumers in exchange for the data they collect. Data has value, and is a commodity that can be bought. Neither Dominos, nor Rubin would make such investments, if there wasn’t significant value in the information they receive. However, data is useless without analysing it. You have to able to make something meaningful out of the numbers. While the analysis of data can be, and is becoming a more automated process, there is still a very human task of tempting valuable insights out of data.
So on one side of this data-driven economy are the companies who gather and use massive amounts of information to understand their markets. However, the pursuit of quantifying everyday activity not only interests big business, but also appeals to consumers. This is clearly demonstrated through the rising popularity of wearable technology such as the Apple Watch and Fitbit. This innovation has helped people to reach new fitness goals, while also tracking their diet and sleeping patterns. Many different applications analyse this data, and the consumers can then gain insights into their lives. One alternative idea comes from Laura Peill, who has stopped running with her fitness tracker. She argues that this technology can make us lose the simplicity and importance of just running and listening to our bodies.
As someone who loves to look into this kind of data, I have been weighing up my options as a consumer. While looking for a watch to buy, I brought my options down to two, very different products. One, a classic analogue wristwatch that simply tells the time. The other, an Apple watch that offers so much more to the wearer. The debate for me, is that I believe it makes a statement to myself of what values I want to uphold. It’s a choice between purely being more conscious of how I use my time, or whether I want to continue a push towards quantifying everything I do.
Beyond this decision, I feel that it raises an awareness of how dependant I am on technology. In the past week, I experienced the exact situation outlined in the first 30 seconds of this clip.
Luckily for me, I had my iPad on standby. I have some thinking to do.