Have you ever felt like your life was dictated by numbers – from the numbers in your bank account to the number of steps on your fitness watch?
You’re not alone.
We are surrounded by numbers like never before.
Humanity now generates more digits each day than all the digits generated between the creation of the first clay accounting tablet in Uruk 5,000 years ago – and the year 2020.
This epidemic of numbers is having an effect on us, say economics professor Micael Dahlen of the Stockholm School of Economics and marketing professor Helge Thorbjornsen of the NHH Norwegian School of Economics.
Counting numbers can make us greedier, more selfish, less motivated, and can even lead to depression, warn the authors in a new book, “More Numbers Every Day: How Figures Take Over Our Lives — And Why It’s Time to Set Ourselves.” Free”. .” (Hatchet).
“The pedometer counts the steps for you,” they write.
“Facebook counts your friends for you. Today there are counters for everything you do in a day. And at night too, for that matter.
Numbers affect us physically and mentally, they warn – and we risk becoming “numbers capitalists”, trading the numbers in our lives for cheaper deals from big companies supplying our personal data to artificial intelligence.
The authors advise taking a “digital vaccine” to reduce your reliance on numbers in your life – and free yourself from thinking everything in numerical terms.
“Perhaps you will decide that some parts of your life can actually be de-quantified. Or that, at the very least, you could do with a temporary rehab,” they write.
“In any event, we think everyone would feel better about getting a shot at the numbers, so they can choose for themselves how to deal with them.”
How Numbers Shape Your Feelings
How do numbers affect us? Numbers influence us physically, including how much weight people can lift, with experiments showing American bodybuilders hitting their wall at 225 pounds because it’s a neat number.
Researchers say an effect known as SNARC (Spatio-Numeric Association of Response Codes) means that you look down during the countdown and are more likely to turn left if a low number is presented to you.
On “milestone” birthdays (i.e., 30, 40, 50), you don’t feel a year older — on average, you feel 2.4 years older, according to the researchers.
What’s your favorite number? Most people choose the number seven, according to a study of 44,000 people by British author and mathematician Alex Bellos (hence, perhaps, the seven deadly sins, the seven seas, the seven days of the week – and the seven dwarfs.
So what can we do about it?
“We are number animals and are influenced by numbers whether we realize it or not,” write Dahlen and Thorbjornsen.
“For this reason, be careful with them, for your sake and that of others.”
Numbers hurt self-image
Numbers also affect how we view ourselves, especially numbers related to money and social success.
Just looking at or thinking about money makes us stronger and more confident, according to scientific studies, but also more focused on ourselves. People who collect money are less afraid of death.
An experiment conducted by the authors showed that people who monitor their financial data become more work-oriented, more selfish, and even more xenophobic.
People also become more insensitive to the needs of others, less considerate, and less social.
Social media can have similar effects.
Researchers have done their own experiments with social media and found that people who get a lot of likes on their photos experience increased life satisfaction, self-confidence, and reduced stress levels.
“One of the reasons the number of likes has such a direct and immediate effect on self-confidence is that it makes social comparison so incredibly simple,” the authors write.
“Two numbers are extremely easy to compare. Two vacation photos or two photos of a plate of food are not.
Numbers such as BMI and credit scores provide us with ways to compare everything with other people – and intuitively, humans compare themselves up rather than down, looking at people who are “doing better” that we. It makes us dissatisfied.
“Numbers, especially on social media, can be addictive,” the authors write.
“Go to rehab once in a while.”
Numbers can rob you of your motivation
The Quantified Self-Movement preaches that measuring numbers like heart rates and blood sugar can make you superhuman, according to the move inspired by Timothy Ferriss’ book “The 4-Hour Body,” with promised results including increased fat loss by 300% and allowing Orgasms in 15 minutes for women.
But is technology and the measurement of the numbers it records actually making us healthier?
Americans believe it, with more than 40% believing that self-monitoring increases athletic ability and reduces fat.
But there’s actually very little evidence that using devices to measure performance has a significant positive effect.
“The majority of the (few) controlled studies that examine the effect of smartwatches, step counters and various forms of health data recording find a significant but relatively small positive impact on a person’s health and performance. “, write the authors.
“We run a little faster, lose a little more weight or perform a little better. But just a little.
Researchers say a study led by Jordan Etkin at Duke University shows that performance measurement actually hurts motivation — and over time, people reduce the activity they do and enjoy it less.
Focusing on the measurement takes the person’s attention away from the activity itself. So, people who once enjoyed jogging for fresh air and listening to music are rather obsessed with numbers.
“Measurement can lead to decreased motivation and self-deception,” the authors write. “Be honest with yourself.”
Vaccine against numbers: measuring yourself leads to cheating
We are all becoming “number capitalists”
In 2018, insurer John Hancock Insurance announced that it was selling “interactive” life insurance policies that collect data through wearable fitness trackers such as Apple Watch and Fitbit.
People who don’t use the devices pay higher premiums.
The applications we use provide large companies with information such as geolocation data, health data, the number of subscribers and the temperature of our living rooms. In return, we get more personalized services, accurate advertisements and cheaper services.
These algorithms are all “self-improving” via artificial intelligence and deep learning – using neural networks to “learn” from large amounts of data in a way that mimics the human brain.
Some of these models are “black boxes” where we have little information about how the AI makes its predictions.
A Nordic bank developed a deep learning model that could predict when people were about to default on their loans – but were forced to pull it back when they couldn’t explain how it worked. What else happens to our private data inside these “black boxes”?
“Think carefully before trading your numbers for cash,” the authors write.
“Are you absolutely certain that you want Google, Apple and others to know everything about you, your family and your health? »