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On numbers

Ito, 2015.

Ito, 2015.

One day, when I was in a cafe I heard a girl talking to her friend, saying that her photo uploaded couldn’t get more than a hundred likes as usual while she regarded it as a beautiful one.

More and more numbers are everywhere in our daily lives, and we tend to believe that they are the objective indicators which can explain well what on the earth has been happening, and how we are.

Scores do have some influences on us: they help us maintain our performance and even push us forward. We monitor them from time to time, and detect if we fail a little bit suddenly. If it is so, we can feel so guilty that we work harder until reaching back the usual scores.

有天在咖啡店內,聽到一個女生與她的朋友對話,大意是她在網上分享的照片沒有如常得到過百個讚好,同時她認為這張相不差的。

在日常生活中,愈來愈多的數字無處不在,而同時我們相信它們是客數的指標,可以解釋在這世界上發生什麼事情,以及我們的個人狀況。

分數對我們有影響:可以有助維持我們表現,甚至將我們推到更前。我們不時留意著這些數字,一旦發現如果分數突然稍低甚至「不合格」,我們會感到內疚,然後努力一點去回到本來那個狀態。

Hong Kong, 2015.

Hong Kong, 2015.

Numbers are not necessarily meaningful

數字,不一定有意義。

But we sometimes take care numbers too much! Focusing too much on the results can lead to ignorance of our true feelings and the whole process. Say during my childhood, I usually got 90–100 marks in dictations, with only one or two mistakes made. But one time I got ZERO during my secondary studies and I cried. I blamed myself on having a failure. I overlooked the fact that I just missed a sentence with more than 20 words, and with 5 marks per word of course all the marks were deducted. By looking back, the mistakes here occupied a small part in the dictation, and the zero mark didn’t match this fact.

Not all numbers reflect facts in the world. Likes and followers on social media like Facebook and Instagram are typical examples. The number of likes does not imply how people appreciate your works, and hate too if they don’t ‘like’! There are a combination of factors contributing to it, like the time of sharing, in what circumstances people read it (on trains or at home?), whether the social media blocks the content from the news feed (less exposure to the public) and other things we still don’t know. Tapping ‘like’ button is a kind of intuition. We should care of it.

And the battery percentage on the phone too! It is constructed to let us understand battery life better, but can’t be regarded as the real thing. The number suddenly jumps in a second (e.g. 42% to 39%) is not a big problem indeed, unless it becomes 1% which can annoy us. Turning off the figure is sometimes preferable.

可是我們有時太過在意數字!太介意結果,會使我們的真實感受和過程被忽略。就以我小時候來說,默書常常得到90至100分,也就是說只有一到兩個錯字。不過在中學時,有一次我零分!我哭了!我怪責自己不合格,但我沒有探究過其實那零分,只不過漏了一句超過20個字的句字所致,一個字5分然後很快扣掉是理所當然,這錯誤只佔了很少的部分,零分根本反映不了這點。

並非所有數字都能反映現實。在網上的Facebook和Instagram,多少人按讚、多少人來追蹤自己,不一定反映他們很欣賞自己的作品,而不按讚也不代表不喜歡。按不按讚、是否追蹤是有很多因素夾雜在其中,如分享的時間、人們在什麼情況看到自己(如火車上或是在家中)、社交網站是否沒把自己的內容張貼在首頁,以致曝光度下降;其他我們所不知的原因。按讚甚至只是一種直覺,想按就按,不想按就不按。故此不用在意。

手機的電池百分比數字也不是一種建構,一種粗略的估計,讓我們更容易明白電池的狀況,但不能視作最真實的狀況。如果這數字突然急速下降(如42%一下子到39%),其實不是大問題,除非跳到1%吧!所以把數字關掉也不是壞事。

Coffee Server, 2015.

Coffee Server, 2015.

Set minimum requirement rather than goals

為自己訂下最低要求,而不是終極目標

Number is a kind of design. I did not study design at school and don’t know how design school thinks about numbers, but I find that it can be a strong reminder at least to me. That’s why number, other than warm colors (e.g. red), is always applied in different parts of society to arouse people’s awareness. That’s why a number of indicators has been introduced to get the public into more habits including reading and sports.

But it just ‘forces’ us to check them every second, while it fails to bring us enjoyable experiences. For some people, they are tired of the scores and as a result may give up some habits. It’s time for us to focus on awareness to ourselves other than looking at numbers: Do we feel happy or not? Can I really understand the concepts and knowledge, even though I got full marks in an examination? Do the scores really reflect the status about me? Number is useful with contexts. Asking the above questions can let us truly understand ourselves, and allows us to find out the causation to make us better.

I don’t mean we should get rid of numbers totally. Besides ensuring that it is meaningful, make sure it does not make you too painful. For example, set a minimum target that you can easily reach, as too high requirement can make you give up a habit. It is because focusing less on the goals can let one achieve better results.

數字是一種設計。雖然我沒有修設計,不知設計如何看數字,但我發現,至少於我來說,數字也可以是一種很強烈的提醒方式。這也是除了如紅色這些暖色外,數字用於社會各方面來提高人們的意識,透過一系列的指標,讓人們養成一些習慣,如閱讀和運動。

數字會逼迫我們每分每秒留意,但是犧牲了過程之中的體驗。為有些人來說,他們厭倦了這堆數字,結果放棄某些習慣。我想,是時候聚焦在我們的感受:我們在過程中是否開心?我們是否真的明白了一些知識和概念,即使在考試中拿了100分?分數是否真的完全反映現實?數字在脈絡下是有用和有意義。透過問上述的問題,我們能更了解自己,以及讓自己找出因果而自我完善。

不是要排除所有的數字。除了確保數字有意義外,更要確保它不會令你更痛苦。我建議與其訂立很高的要求,倒不如只訂最低要求:你已經可以做到的程度。只確保有做便行,這樣你反而會很自然的做的愈來愈多和愈好,太集中在那個高不可攀的數字,通常會適得其反而放棄。

LifeAlvin C