24 Mar 2012
Personal statistics fascinate me, and in the information age, I’m collecting a ton of them. Last.fm keeps track of what music I listen to and when I listen to it. Letterboxd does the same for movies, and the tagging system I’m using within it tells me how the movies were formatted, where I watched them, and more. Goodreads and Instapaper keep tabs on my reading, Foursquare and Tripit chronicle the details of my travels, and DICE’s Battlefield series knows exactly how many bullets I’ve fired in virtual combat, which weapons they came from, how good my aim is, and much, much more.
A smart person might be able to put together a decent psychological profile with this stuff. But if the subject has access to his own data in real time, is that profile reliable? I pore over my personal statistics somewhat religiously, and in many cases, it affects my behavior. I’ll be careful to space out an album’s repeat listens, even if it’s something I adore. I’ll go out of my way to rotate my reading between fiction and non-fiction. Ostensibly, I do this to make my experiences more well-rounded, or at least to give the appearance of well-roundedness to whomever might be looking.
But am I really doing myself any favors by paying attention to the play-by-play? Does such a calculated approach to these experiences rob them of their potential for serendipity? Does it needlessly impede the whims of natural curiosity?