You can’t improve what you don’t measure

IBM has been in the data collection business for a long time.

It started with their mainframe computers, behemoths that filled a warehouse and whose computing power now fits in your phone.

From there they evolved and got into the consulting business, where they took all their data crunching know-how and applied it to big business, government, and science.

A few years ago they took this experience and repackaged it into what they called their “Smart” initiative. This is where they collect huge amounts of data and analyze it to improve decision-making in such diversified realms as health care, power supply systems, road management, and crime prevention, to name just a few.

Now, it seems, everyone has gotten onto the “smart” bandwagon.

And for those of us who count ourselves among the mere mortals of the world, this has been a huge boon.

We have smart phones, of course. Now our homes are getting smarter by the minute with appliances, lights, and mechanical systems integrated with the internet so that we can turn off our TV in Tel Aviv and adjust the thermostat from the Acropolis.

It’s a whole new world out there. In no time at all we will never have to get up from the couch again, unless, of course, we get a burning desire to boil potatoes.

It appears that our yearning for ease and comfort and entertainment knows no bounds.

While everything around us is seemingly getting smarter, our bodies are being dumbed down to the point where they will soon become useless appendages of our roving thumbs.

Who needs to think? Who needs to move when we have all these machines and gadgets that can do so much for us, often before we even know what we want?

But wait! If for every action there is a reaction, some niche needing to be filled, we suddenly find ourselves with the exciting prospect of what I will lovingly describe as “smart bodies.”

Now we have all sorts of wearable sensors and mini-computers designed to nudge us into action with the tantalizing prospect of counting things we never knew needed counting. Steps. Miles. Flights. And calories.

They can even tell you when you are awake in the middle of the night! As if you needed reminding.

I mention this as a long prelude to tell you that Pam bought me a Fitbit.

Apparently the Sultan of Slow is getting a little round around the edges and needs to get moving again.

Friends will be quick to pile on with a chorus of “No duh! The dude hasn’t moved in years.”

Long before the world gave a whit about being fit, the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu proclaimed that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Now, thanks to Fitbit and its brethren, we know exactly how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go. With graphs and charts to illustrate our progress, or lack thereof.

It’s all rather discouraging encouraging.

After a long day of research (for all you new subscribers, research is code for napping at Slow HQ) I am now prodded into action by a little gremlin clipped to my pocket. “More steps,” it says. “You need to take more steps.”

Now even nagging is being outsourced.

It’s true, though. You can’t improve what you don’t measure. That’s why our meter has suddenly gotten smart and reminds us to turn off the lights when we leave the room in order to save electricity.

It’s why we don’t need to divine why the squirrels are running for cover, now that our phones alert us to an approaching thunder storm.

And it’s why all manner of wearable gizmos now remind us that sitting around all day may not be the healthiest thing we can do for ourselves. Facebook and emails and cat videos notwithstanding.


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