Better ways to quantify your life
So for some time now there’s been a movement to quantify many parts of our lives, on the premise that you might learn something from how many steps you walked, hours slept and so on.
Yet of course such metrics often fail to capture what it really means to live. If your day was ruined by being reamed out by your boss and then dumped by your boyfriend / girlfriend, “calories consumed” may not fully capture that.
Hence in the spirit of our quantitative age I present Part One of a new series of Advanced Metrics for Modern Living. (I am also inspired by the spirit of sabermetrics and Curb Your Enthusiasm). I would deeply appreciate any ideas for improving these metrics.
The Seek/Avoid Ratio (SAR)
“Sorry to bother you, but could I have just 10 minutes or your time?”
On your average day: how much time and effort do you spend trying to reach people, as opposed to trying to avoid people who are trying to talk to you? That is your seek/avoid ratio, or SAR.
SAR is a bit of a funny metric. Ideally it should be in some balance. Like blood pressure, if it is extremely high or low, your life may be miserable.
High SAR (or “desperately seeking”): If you spend much of your time and effort chasing people down your life is High SAR. You may work in sales or fundraising. Or possibly you are single and a little bit aggressive.
You may spend hours each day writing emails, texting or even calling people who are not particularly inclined to talk to you. Doesn’t sound so pleasant, does it?
And yet, oddly enough, some of what seem like the fanciest jobs in the country — say, being a member of Congress, or a highly paid lobbyist— involve spending hours every day pestering people who would prefer to be left alone. Some versions of the CEO job are also shockingly high SAR — constantly trying to get ahold of investors, journalists, and so on.
Low SAR (“avoidant”): You spend much of your day trying to avoid people. Deleting emails, ignoring phone calls, trying not to let people catch your eye. People may think you are “unfriendly” or “distant.”
Why? Perhaps you are famous, exceptionally good looking, or hold a fortune and be known for giving money away. Low SAR can also have nothing to do with your looks or wealth, but be a function of having a gatekeeper job — a job with the power to green-light stuff. Fiction agents, op-ed editors have highly avoidant jobs. One of my friends had a job that included choosing movies for the Toronto Film Festival. People would pitch her in the bathroom. There was no escape.
Alternatively, it could be that you’re an introvert. Or maybe you just hate people.
Analysis and directionality: So the problem with the SAR metric is that it isn’t very directional. It doesn’t give you anything to maximize, so much as force you to examine where your life choices have led you. At a minimum it can make you think twice about wanting to be truly famous or running a company.
Some jobs involve a strange mixture of constantly seeking and avoiding. Journalists, for example, spend their days seeking out people they want to gain access to, while trying to avoid those who want to be covered.
Mutually Preferred Encounter ratio (MEP)
It can be nice to talk to people who actually want to talk to you. A more directional version of the SAR ratio is all about trying to avoid Seek / Avoid altogether. It asks, how many of your interactions are actually “mutually preferred encounters” (MPE), as opposed to some version of getting a hold of someone trying to avoid you or vice versa (mutually or unilaterally un-preferred encounters).
Like maximizing your steps for the day, you can try to maximize your MPE on any given day. Unfortunately for this life strategy, you’ll have to avoid any kind of job that includes lots of meetings.
Percent Unpleasant metric ( PU )
As noted in the MPE section, it can be nice to talk to people who actually want to talk to you. Sounds nice, doesn’t it — almost pleasant?
Hence the next metric, the Percent Unpleasant metric (PU, or maybe PUP). It asks: how much of your human contact on a given day would you describe as “pleasant” or “enjoyable,” as opposed to:
(3) “uncomfortable and/or awkward”
(4) “boring / tedious” or
(5) “ambiguously weird.”
Now compute the ratio of pleasant to unpleasant, leading to: Percent Unpleasant.
Certain jobs are, by their nature, very high PU. Consider working at the tow-pound. From what I’ve seen, at least one in five “customers” ends up screaming at whomever is behind the bullet-proof glass, and one in ten actually pounds on the glass. Being employed by Comcast customer service is probably worse.
PU, as a life metric, is highly sensitive to the state of your relationship or marriage. With the wrong partner, or with a partner who is in a bad mood, the PU is going to be off the charts. Might be better not to have a partner who routinely calls you a “fat fuck” at home.
It also explains why people find dating so exhausting, sometimes after a short period of delusion. Not only does it include constant episodes of seeking or avoiding people (SAR problems), it also yield many encounters in either the “uncomfortable and/or awkward,” “boring” or “ambiguously weird” category.
What this metric does suggest is that you should cultivate a good relationship with whomever you buy your coffee or lunch from. That little burst of pleasantness can help reduce the overall PU for the day.
It is hard to know for sure, but I strongly suspect that earlier ages worked much harder at lowering the PU of daily life than we do, through something known as “etiquette.”
Analysis of Metric
As suggested this metric can be very helpful in organizing one’s life. For example: say you have a tax accountant who, while very good, is also irritating and even demanding. Fire him! Get someone who is funny instead. Sure it may cost you thousands in missed deductions or whatever, but life isn’t about money.
For younger people, this might also force you into that difficult realization that many things are actually much more enjoyable without your so-called friends.
More to come…..