Better ways to quantify your life

Part 1 of the “New Metrics for Modern Living”

Tim Wu


Larry David is generally low SAR (explained below)

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.”



Tim Wu

Professor at Columbia University; author of “The Curse of Bigness,” “The Attention Merchants,” and “The Master Switch;” veteran of Silicon Valley & Obama Admin.