We seem to be entering into a world where the cult of measurement is entering into the personal space, with the buzz term of the “quantified self”. I know I’m (yet again) flying in the face of the numerical wind, but I don’t want any truck with this. Measurement changes behaviours to hit targets, but targets are usually over-simplified proxies for what’s really going on.

There has been an element of “the quantified self” available to most of us for many years via the bathroom scales. We (by now) should all know that being overweight is of significant health risk. And yet, despite the widespread availability of this quantified data, obesity is at record levels. And here’s the rub: your weight is an abstracted measurement of a balance of healthy eating and reasonable exercise (mixed up with personal metabolism I guess too). Whilst some of us are lucky to be able to maintain a reasonable body/mass index without too much thinking about it, and others can through carefully maintaining diet and exertion, most can’t. The world of dieting then steps in, providing various ways for people to hit weight targets before (too often) yo-yoing back to lardy again when the diet stops.

Metcalfe and Campbell’s laws again rise to the fore: the meaning of the measure changes (we become obsessed with our weight, not with a healthy lifestyle), and we cheat to hit a target (short-term dieting rather than lifestyle changes).

Will more measurement help? Personally I’m not convinced.

One thought on “The quantified idiot

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