The Numbers Game
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There was an article in the New York Times about how doctors have gone from being Knights to Knaves (Out of Camelot, Knights in White Coats Lose Way) where the author was basically saying that doctors went from pillars of the community to profiteers. The author blamed Medicare to some degree, but, honestly, this isn't a doctor thing, this is a numbers game.
We see this in obscene CEO salaries and in stock market brokers bonuses. It's not about the money because, at some point, you're making more than you can spend. It's that being a pillar of society isn't as quantifiable as, "Look at this huge-ass check I just got!" The numbers are the reward.
We all like to see our numbers go up, whatever those are. The fact that the number of friends you have on Facebook or Twitter is a big deal is part of how we view society -- if you have big numbers, you're an important person. (There's something Freudian in here which I could relate to all the spam I get, but I'll try to keep this ramble professional... oh, and I'll ignore the spam about bust size, too... oops.)
Houses became about square footage, not about where you live. Cars got bigger. Investment and spending is tied to a Dow Jones number -- the bigger the better. If it can be reduced to a number, you can compare yourself to the other guy quantifiably and ignore a qualified comparison.
I'm sure my brother would have something to say about this in terms of the way accountants and lawyers run things -- the corporate model is all based on numbers, after all, and we are living in the Corporate Age.
But there are things that can't be reduced to numbers. Quality has absolutely nothing to do with quantity. Not even price. You can spend way too much money on crap, and you can get really nice stuff for very little, if you know how to evaluate things based on tangible and abstract qualities that aren't numbers.
Again, as I feel the Internet may be contributing to people sitting on their asses more, (see The Internet and our Sedentary Society), I think that hooking every decision to a database is a problem. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying data is bad, and I think you need data to make good decisions -- but if you don't understand how to qualify the data you're putting into that database, then all you're going to do is make decisions based on the bigger number.
While I know in many, many places my entire existence has been reduced to numbers, I am not a number. For now.
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