Are We Measuring Ourselves to Distraction?
… and Tracking Ourselves to Ill Health?
We live in a data-gorged world, where most everything can be measured in microns and progress can be tracked real-time. In theory, this rich availability of data should enhance every decision by helping us base judgments on data, not supposition, and logic, not emotion.
Unfortunately, this very condition of ubiquitous data can distract us from what is important and cause us to track ourselves right into urgent care!
Consider the evolution of the bathroom scale, the must-have tool of measurement for all dieters. Weight used to be measured in stones, literally. As science evolved and man’s curiosity about his weight advanced, newer technologies and a numeric scale were developed. Revolving wheels imprinted with numbers inside the scale rolled up and up until his weight was revealed. Depending on how he stood on the scale, he could manipulate the data by a pound or two. (Trust me, I know.) Today’s scales provide far more accurate digital readouts, along with body fat and water measurements in 0.1% increments should he (you) desire this information. (I don’t own one.)
Imagine that today’s dieter takes 20 readings a day. Minuscule changes in the data might be a source of satisfaction, distress, or pure musing. How much brain space would this consume? Where else might these intellectual and emotional ‘calories’ be better spent?
More to the point, which of the 20 data points should be a cause for new behavior? How many ounces of food or water, how many steps from desk to cafeteria, how many trips to the restroom would positively affect the digital readout?
At some point, information becomes not only redundant, but harmful. All systems operate within statistical norms and in every system some data falls outside these norms. When errant data points become numerous they create patterns. These patterns tell us about the health or distress of the system. If we are focused on noticing every data point real-time, it becomes impossible to discern patterns or analyze causes.
Today’s businesses rely more and more heavily on data for decision-making, sometimes simply because data is available. But judgment born of experience and hard-won lessons must also have a seat at the decision-making table. Even more important, keeping a clear eye on where we are going and why must trump our propensity to monitor and react to rapid, continual streams of data.
Common sense is as rare today as it has always been. Let’s not allow our sophisticated tracking and measurement systems to bury it once and for all.