Systems of measurement have a productive power in our lives

Systems of measurement have a productive power in our lives. Here David Beer writes that “it is crucial that we see metrics as being central to the power dynamics of the age in which we live“. The discussion around metrics is fascinating, and I am interested in the measurement of impact and influence in particular.

However, I am at the same time wary that an over-reliance on metrics risks oversimplifying a complex world, and so dulling our ability to grapple with it. It is interesting to contrast Beer’s article with the views of Greek Finance Minister, Yannis Varoufakis, for example, who talks passionately here about how “one of the great evils of our time, is this penchant to quantify unquantifiable variables.” And to consider carefully what metrics we choose to prioritise, and why. See for example this article about David Cameron measuring the “wrong type of happiness“. And finally, to think about how through metrics we might focus on past and future, without looking at what’s going on right now. See the end of this wonderful article about characterising change, and history, for example, in which Ian Mortimer writes about how at the turn of the twentieth century, developments in technology allowed us to better predict the future. And so, how it was at this point that “the future” started to take on a dominant role in public discourse.

There are certainly diverse and evolving attitudes towards the use of metrics, in their various guises, in society. It is interesting to consider to what extent we might want them to guide decision-making, in which areas of life, and why. I am still undecided.