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  • Monday, March 14, 2005


    Death by Numbers

    Science and mathematics are marvels of our age. Both have accomplished many things for society. Modern American society would not be possible without the ability to quantify and measure. Yet the overreliance on numbers is also what is killing us.

    How do you count love and happiness? How do you measure quality of life? And before you suggest that there are tests and standards purporting to measure these things, consider that those very scales of measure may be part of the problem.

    In capitalist society, corporations care most about the "bottom line," an accounting measurement of expenditures and profitability. A side effect of this focus is viewing the human component as peripheral to the bottom line. Theoretically, in a corporation, almost every person can be replaced. In fact, people often are replaced in order to improve profits and efficiency.

    We live our lives to the rhythm of various kinds of measurement: the clock helps regulate when we work and play, the money we earn defines where and how we live.

    The current consolidation of media is a case in point. Laurie Garrett of Newsday recently resigned, citing, among other things, the bottom line mentality of the owners. In her resignation memo she wrote: "The leaders of Times Mirror and Tribune have proven to be mirrors of a general trend in the media world: They serve their stockholders first, Wall St. second and somewhere far down the list comes service to newspaper readerships.” (In an curious side note, Ms Garrett's scathing memo and resignation have hardly been covered in the press. The only reference I found to it was at Editor & Publisher, hardly a mainstream source. I would think the resignation of a Pulitzer prize winning journalist in this manner would be news.)

    I was going to explore this relationship between numbers and quantification of our lives further here but I'm a little pressed for time. I've only scratched the surface of what I wanted to say. Perhaps later.

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