Sunday, 13 October 2013

Stop Counting The Miles

I often run with my Iphone strapped to my arm. My phone has an app which monitors how fast and far I run as well as recording my route. Today at the end of my run the app flashed 4,000km.

I don’t always run with my phone so the 4,000km is a low figure - but seeing the Nike app register 4,000km felt like a significant landmark.

To be honest since showering and getting changed out of my sweaty sporty clothes I'm slightly surprised at the level of satisfaction it gave me.

But my running app and my satisfaction at clocking 4,000km points to a wider phenomenon. I am beginning to think that for many of us it is no longer a case of “cogito ergo sum” (I think therefore I am) or even "curro ergo sum" (the runner’s fun take on the famous philosophical pronouncement - I run therefore I am). No, for many of us we are living a quantified life. I measure therefore I am.

If a phenomenon or event is not measured and recorded it is almost as if it didn’t happen. The very act of measurement seems to give an event meaning. Conversely not measuring an event can cause us to question the very validity of a phenomenon. Let me use the example of my running app again:

My running app records the best times I have run for 5k, 10k, half marathon and a marathon. The problem is often this feature of the running app is temperamental. It will often not actually show the best time I have run a distance in and just randomly pick one of the runs I have done over that distance. When I discovered this it really bothered me, I spent far too much time than I care to admit emailing Nike and even talking to the support team on the phone to try and rectify the problem. Why did I care so much? I know exactly what my best times are for each of those distances - I didn’t need my phone to tell me. But it was almost as if I had not run those times if it was not recorded and showing up on my phone!

I know I have actually run further than 4,000km over the last two years but it wasn’t until I saw it on my phone that I felt I’d actually achieved it.

Not only does the classic "cogito ergo sum" seem insufficient to grasp our modern lives, I feel the famous philosophical question of; “if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it does it make a sound?” is now inadequate. The sound of the tree crashing down no longer exists even if an army of people hear it, if you haven’t measured it's volume on your phone, filmed it and hopefully uploaded it to YouTube.

Running at its best connects me with my inner self and the natural world around me. Running should be pure existential joy where you are experiencing the moment as it happens. Checking my running app after a run and taking satisfaction from its measurement saying “4,000km” couldn’t be further from living in the moment.

The Ancient Romans saw the dangers of trying to measure life as demonstrated by the famous poem by Catullus when he wrote: 

Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred.
Then, another thousand, and a second hundred.
Then, yet another thousand, and a hundred.
Then, when we have counted up many thousands,
Let us shake the abacus,so that no one may know the number,
And become jealous when they see
How many kisses we have shared.

I believe the poet is telling us true joy only starts when measurement becomes meaningless.

I will continue to run with my Iphone and running app but I will strive to remember that it is the running that matters not the record of my run. 

And like the kisses in Ancient Rome the real joy in running only starts when we “shake the abacus” and measurement ends. 

(The photograph speaks for itself - it is a screen shot of my iphone displaying 4,000km)

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