The other day, Spotify sent me my annual year-end recap, where it tallied up the time I spent listening to music (17,000 minutes), and the number of individual tracks I’d listened to: 1,307. Spotify tells me that I’m a big fan of the Rolling Stones (1,038 plays) and Punch Brothers (458).
I compared notes with a friend of mine, Akiva, whose musical indulgence far exceeded my own. Spotify reported, he said, that he’d played a whopping 78,000 minutes of music, and 3,250 individual tracks. I defended my otherwise paltry numbers, explaining that I’d actually shifted much of my listening to podcasts, a fact confirmed by the 55 hours I’ve saved by using Overcast’s “Smart Speed” setting to eliminate silences and dead noise. But an air of unskippable defeat hung over our Slack channel.
Akiva and I also use the reading app Pocket, which, like Spotify, sends a year-end recap to its users. In 2014, they released their user stats on December 14th, and Akiva and I assume that this year, they’ll be released on around the same date. There’s a subtle competition between the two of us; we both want to have read and listened more, but we’re also totally mature about it. “I’m gonna beat you so bad” he said.
Last year, I read a fair amount – principally while waiting on line at Starbucks, or for Season 2 of Orange is the New Black to buffer – and clocked in at 1,477,109 words consumed, or, less inscrutably, enough text to fill 32 books (War & Peace? Nancy Drew? They don’t say). “I ranked in the top 1%,” I proudly told my wife. “Don’t be that guy,” she said. But nonetheless, I keep refreshing my inbox, waiting for that “Your Year in Pocket” subject line, telling me with delicious accuracy just how many New Yorker articles I read (about 135, if I had to guess), and what days of the week I liked to read them (most probably Sunday, like last year).
It’s important to me that everything I read gets properly tallied by Pocket, lest my final year-end accounting be anything but accurate. And so I gallavant around the Internet, Pocketing away – “To Lower Cholesterol, Try a Foray Into the Meditteranean Diet?” Why yes, I’ll take two! – to help ratchet up my year-end Pocket stats. The little number in the red bubble perched atop the Pocket icon on my iPhone has steadily climbed northward (519, as of this writing), slightly raising my blood pressure every time I unlock my home screen. Combined with the 44 unlistened podcasts hogging 1.3GB in my Overcast queue, I feel the need to read and listen constantly, driven by equal parts intellectual compulsion and a need to free up storage space.
Thankfully, I’ve been managing my slightly-higher-than-healthy blood pressure by running’s aggressively. I know that I run an average of 23.7 miles per week, thanks to MapMyRun, an app that I’ve used to track my runs for the last three years. And, MapMyRun tells me, on this date last year “You Crushed an Incredible Run,” a 7.1-mile dash down Manhattan’s Greenway, probably listening to The Rolling Stones or Punch Brothers. Thanks, MapMyRun.
“I’m at 75 miles for the month,” I tell my wife. “That’s great,” she says, “tell your friends.” “I’m at 75 miles for the month,” I tell Akiva. “I don’t run anymore,” he says. But I know he’ll be jealous, especially when he sees that I’ve burned 143,267 kilocalories this year.
I wonder if there was some way to both read and listen at the same time. Two birds, one stone. “That’s crazy,” I think. “Don’t be crazy,” my wife says.” “Even I wouldn’t go that far,” volunteers Akiva.
I start to think if my attention to numbers, metrics and year-end stats has reduced the spontaneous intellectual, emotional, or physical joy of listening to an album, skimming an article, or hitting the pavement. My phone, and the attendant tracking apps, have mechanized my relaxation, quantifying literally every word I read or step I take. “Nah,” I think, “it’s good to be able to measure my productivity.”
I know that at login, WordPress will show me my all time highest number of daily hits – 1,480, in August 2012, when I was “Freshly Pressed” – and how that number has served as a yardstick and an albatross – an albatross carrying a yardstick? – in terms of how I view my blog. I click PUBLISH, and sling my blog entry into the ether. It looks like 2015 will get way more traffic than 2014. WordPress is due to crunch my stats any day now.