News and Tribune

June 2, 2014

CUMMINS: Life is a numbers game

Local columnist

— How much of your life is digitized? Stop and think, do you want to surrender your life to the growing nerd community? However, if you’re not relying on apps to guide you, then your life has a void in it.

Take a close look at your personal history. Have you been tested? I have, and until acquiring a personal computer, the most significant event in my life was passing the driver’s license test. The next night I took my first girl out and experienced the prerequisites to intimacy. It was on a lonely country road when the car stalled, before AAA and cell phones. What could I do, but comfort and protect her from the dark forces hovering over us?

Today there are darker forces preventing love and its manifestations. One is the violation of the second commandment, love thy neighbor, and the other is the huge “data” bank that is collecting valuable information about our physical, mental and love lives. It’s also collecting information about our sins, including over eating and under loving obnoxious neighbors. How can you live a full, complete, heart-and-soul enhancing life without sufficient data? To make wise decisions, you should form an intimate relationship with your personal numbers bank hoping it paints a rosy picture of your all-important self, not a lost in the tech wilderness one. Do not rely on your heart, mind, instinct, conscience and faith in something higher than digits, algorithms and statistics. We’ve been on the wrong path in promoting civilization and the whole human being. But computers are working for you and apps are apt so that’s where your future’s at. An app is computer program that flies through the air giving you and your computer something more to do.

A dear friend passed. Herman appeared to be at peace in his plush casket, but then his arm began slowly rising. They had embalmed him with his Samsung in his hand. His bereaved family rushed over to grief chairs and clicked on, awaiting Herman’s texts to them. A funeral home is a solemn and quiet place to text, or check out the weather at the grave site. I have friends who keep waiting for texts from dead loved ones wherever they are. Surely, our all-powerful God will eventually reveal to us the hacker-free password.

There’s an app for every facet of your life. It’s unbelievable. Numbers are everywhere, aided by apps, websites and devices that keep track of heart rates, weight, sleep patterns and how many friends you have. If you don’t do the Facebook friends thing, I feel sorry for you. Hapifork tracks how fast you eat. If you don’t pause 10 seconds between each bite, the utensil turns bright red and vibrates. Mine goes bonkers. The Reporter app pings you several times each day asking where you are, who you’re with and what you learned today. It then creates a graph of your life. Mine came out zig-zagged.

In a recent article in the New York Times, Bruce Feiler explained that statisticians are winning the cyber war over poets and philosophers. He says our lives are becoming more quantifiable based on metrics. It’s not the quality of life, but the quantity of it, more money, devices, and more fun things to do. Having fun yet, quantities of it?

Let’s give digits, metrics and statistics a fair chance. There’s even a “love” app, which Feiler says uses body sensors, accelerometers and smartphone microphones to monitor, “how long you go and how loud it gets,” during your making-love experiences. Statisticians used this data to determine which state is number one in the duration of acute intimacy. Congratulations New Mexico. (Not making any of this up.)

Why don’t they develop a “peace” app, and rank countries? There’s also a need for an honesty app attached to politicians. Each time a congressperson lies, the gadget arm would shock him like a cattle prod. When programmers develop a “peace-of-mind” app, I’ll download it.

We used to rely more on poets, philosophers and God to guide us. They all deal with the quality life and its aesthetic and spiritual dimensions. We were sidetracked when application software increased the quantity of everything. How much stuff is too much? How much is too much for your brain? Einstein had a numbers brain, but he warned, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Download a few apps today, and notice how quickly your life turns on — or off.

— Contact Terry Cummins at