I’ve developed a short-term medical problem this week that has caused me to go deaf in one ear and lose the feeling in my face. While the clinical exam tentatively diagnosed the problem, the blood work numbers are what clinched the diagnosis. As I saw the results stream in on my phone- CRP, elevated, white blood cells, elevated, platelets, elevated, it occurred to me that in medicine at least, we have all been reduced to numbers. Yes, the doctor did a physical exam, but she was waiting on those numbers before she prescribed treatment.

Medicine isn’t the only arena in which we are reduced to a series of numbers, of course. In our whole online life, which represents the bulk of our life for many of us, reduces us to 0s and 1s. Every emoticon, every word spoken over the phone, every blog post written. 0s and 1s. On one hand, this anonymizes us- we are just 0s and 1s. On the other hand, this makes us easier to track- it is easier to track a number than it is to track a real live person going through the world.

I’m grateful to medicine to be able to give such a precise diagnosis, and to the internet for giving me my livlihood. But I wish there was a less reductionist way to do it.