Disabling the Stats

I went on a hike the other day when suddenly the person I was with started to buzz – well their phone started to at least. We were in the middle of nowhere, so the intrusive buzzing stood out enough to spark a little bit of conversation. Noting we were in a zone with no mobile data access, nor were we getting any call coverage beyond ’emergency only’ we looked at each other confused as to how buzzing was able to have contact with the outside world. Digging through their pack, they found their phone, notification prominent on the lock screen displaying a message. Not a missed call or text message, but rather statistics about their movement activity. Their phone was buzzing, in the middle of nowhere, just to let them know they had walked 20,000 steps.

It’s strange to think how absorbed we have become with statistics and measuring absolutely every aspect of our lives. By using apps on our phones such as MapMyFitness, to purchasing tracking devices to measure our day to day activity. The amount of data we now collect about ourselves by logging food consumption or monitoring online shopping habits is impressive, and technology is learning more about us than we know about ourselves, every day. Even if you don’t mean too, you could be collecting data. Apple’s smart watch measures heart rate and your iPhone stores health data in the iCloud, giving app developers opportunities to connect people with doctors in the middle of nowhere. Even more scarily, this health data may become available to health insurance companies, allowing companies to customise plans, or refuse policies on a whole new personal level. The map of statistics we are gathering about ourselves is incredible, but who are we collecting this data for? And is paying $299 for a high-tech wristband really for us?

Knowing you have walked 20,000 steps in a day does not really offer you any real value. Logging a run, or selecting recipes to try, is one thing but sending information about steps and food consumption to companies to sell you more things to track your steps and food consumption seems excessive in my eyes. When I was growing up, I used to love this TV show called Scrubs and in one scene, my favorite character Dr. Cox explains his view on statistics. These comments were in regards to the protagonist asking for advice about staying with a woman he doesn’t love because statistics say it will be better for his unborn child’s life, so this doesn’t directly connect to a pedometer, but Dr. Cox says something about stats I think is relatable. He says;

“Statistics mean nothing newbie. As doctors, we know that people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer have an 85% death rate within five years, whereas people are having an appendectomy have a 95% survival rating, but we both know pancreatic cancer sufferers who are still alive and appendicitis patients who didn’t make it. Statistics mean nothing to the individual. Not a damn thing.”

In my opinion, by gathering and logging these task every day on a server for companies to sell and buy, analyse and target products towards you is completely pointless. If you want to go for a walk, then go for a walk without measuring every step, and ultimately achieve what a walk is meant to do and escape the nature of ‘always connected’ life. Statistics ultimately mean nothing to us in the end, so why do we continue to collect them. If you have a legit reason, then go for it. If it brings you joy, then go for it. But if you are measuring every aspect of your life, from walking to sleeping without finding a function for that information in your own life, just stop collecting and start just enjoying the moments you’re in. Thinking you’ll be “healthy” because you achieve a step rate means nothing or get a degree of sleep. Don’t get caught in the trap.

So the end of the story is pretty standard. My friend apologised for the buzzing, turned off their phone and we continued to hike the trail both unmeasured, unlogged and uninterrupted. That walk will now be remembered now for the chats, jokes and beautiful views, not the steps.

Disclaimer: I wear a Fitbit and log everything.

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