Illustration by Sarah Yu of stylized numbers
Numbers are everywhere. (Illustration by Sarah Yu, Duke University)

Our Life Is Ruled by Numbers and There’s Nothing We Can Do About It

They’re the basis for our schedules, physical wellbeing and more. Without this knowledge, our lives would be completely different.

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Illustration by Sarah Yu of stylized numbers

They’re the basis for our schedules, physical wellbeing and more. Without this knowledge, our lives would be completely different.

One of the first things we learn to do in school is count. Count to 10. Count to 100. Count as high as we can. It’s a fundamental aspect of education and life. Without knowing numbers, we wouldn’t be able to tell time, a basic yet necessary aspect of culture that governs our lives. We wouldn’t know how to handle money, something else that rules our lives, especially in a capitalist society. We wouldn’t be able to progress through school, gain a career or drive.

Many independent activities are reliant on numbers, especially as we grow older. This can migrate into every minute facet of life. Our height, weight, age, blood count, license ID are numbers, numbers and more numbers. This is what we are surrounded by. These tiny, seemingly inconspicuous things permeate our entire world. This probably isn’t surprising; it’s how we all grew up. It’s so ingrained in our minds and lives that we don’t think twice about it.

We glance at the number of miles on our cars, the number of gallons we put in the tank and the number on the speed limit sign and we don’t even notice how the common denominator between all three of those things (besides cars) are numbers. So, it’s mind-boggling to consider how this small bit of knowledge that we learn at the age of five governs our lives in so many ways, even emotionally. To make matters even more interesting, we can’t change this aspect of our lives. It’s part of our culture and our world. Here’s four ways that numbers rule our culture that aren’t going away anytime soon.

1. Time

What time is it? How many times do you find yourself asking that question throughout your day? Here in America, we are all so busy that scheduling our day by time is a crucial way to get everything done. Going to school, working, sports practices and meetings are all based on time. We get anxious or stressed when we’re late to a class and relieved when we’re on time. We schedule our time with friends based off when we have open slots in our day and try to squeeze exercising into our already packed lives. These are all numbers.

These tiny things that we write a million times a day determine when we hang out with people, what courses we can take and when we eat. This isn’t a bad thing but something to keep in mind, especially when stressed out about not having enough time for something in our day. If we can switch our perspective and remember that the only thing making us stressed are these little numbers, then maybe we can be happier and more relaxed.

2. Money, Money, Money

Arguably, one of the most important facets of numbers is money. Especially in the capitalist country that we live in, money is a foundational basis for our economy and culture. Some people choose a career based off income, and all of us have to base our lifestyle on the money we make. In this way, money can be a relief when we have enough of it and something stressful when we don’t.

We have to pay for taxes, insurance, loans — the list goes on and on. We also get to go on vacations, buy new clothes and eat good food. Money has the opportunity to make our lives easier or harder and money is just numbers, meaning that numbers are the things that make our lives easier or harder. Therefore, much like ABBA’s song in “Mamma Mia,” money is an integral part in our culture that isn’t leaving anytime soon.

3. Health

One less obvious way that numbers play a role in our lives is through our health. With weight and dieting culture being a large source of emotional distress for people, it’s easy to see how the numbers that make up our weight can be a big aspect of life for people. Even height can be an emotional number when our parents cheer as we grow another inch or two as a child.

More in-depth factors of health such as glucose levels, cholesterol and blood pressure can be large aspects of life too, as some of these indicate chronic diseases that need daily management. None of us are immune to the potential worry that can come with this because health plays a significant role in our quality of life; these numbers are ones that shouldn’t be ignored but considered and honored.

4. Milestones

We all have goals and dreams, many of them with a time limit we’d like to complete them by. These time limits can be a certain age or a certain time frame — all determined by numbers. Many people want to be married by a certain age, buy a house by another and have kids by another. These time limits are variable as we progress through our lives; they are changed and modified as new experiences shape our existence in unexpected ways. While these time limits are valid, it’s important to remember that these are just numbers and it’s far more important to reach these goals than worry about the time frame in which they’re completed.

When it comes down to it, numbers make up the little things in our lives and there’s no way to escape from them. Careers can be shaped by numbers if they involve working with math or science and academic performance is determined by percentages and grades. No matter which way you look at it, numbers are an integral part of our culture, economy and country and they’re here to stay.

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