Can we be individuals in a world of numbers?

“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” ― Mother Teresa

We all have those moments in our lives where numbers appear to be the root of all evil. Bank account numbers, credit card numbers, national insurance, health cover, etc. You name it, we are surrounded by numbers. So many in fact, that I doubt, unless you have a special mind for it, that you can remember them all.

I had the experience recently of having to make an online purchase and used my credit card, quickly followed by an application form that needed one of my daughters national insurance numbers. It made me feel as if I was just a number provider. 

If you are of an age you will remember the TV programme called, The Prisoner, developed and starring Patrick Magoohan. I used to watch the reruns in the early 1980’s, on a Sunday lunchtime. The opening sequence has the following dialogue:

Prisoner: Where am I?

Number Two (not identified as yet): In the village.

Prisoner: What do you want?

Two: Information.

Prisoner: Whose side are you on?

Two: That would be telling. We want information…information…information!

Prisoner: You won’t get it!

Two: By hook or by crook, we will.

Prisoner: Who are you?

Two: The new Number Two.

Prisoner: Who is Number One?

Two: You are Number Six.

Prisoner: I am not a number; I AM A FREE MAN!!!

Two: [Laughter]

If you think about it, the world we have created, with all the numbers and rules and regulations, is supposed to help manage our lives. We have made our lives more and more complex. We have added to our lives, so much “stuff” it is difficult to see where we as individuals exist. But wait. Stop for a moment.

Even those numbers that we use every day are unique to us. My credit card number is unique to me. My purchases and spend history are a reflection of me as a person. Of the lifestyle that I lead. We are even tracked by those numbers. Whether it is our shopping habits through loyalty cards; our credit card purchases sold as commercial data; our phone numbers used to push other services. Every item of our lives is leveraged, purchased and used.

How we live our lives within ourselves, though is not. Every moment that we breathe, think and move is ours. Ours to do with as we see fit. Our internal world is as unique to us as the external numbered world is shared by everyone.

Hang on a moment. The external shared numbered world is unique to us as well. All of those numbers that are “registered” to me are mine. They are a reflection of me. Not my persona, but the exterior representation. They were created for me, they exist alongside me and when I die, they will cease to ever be used again – hopefully. So maybe, after all, what we are, are unique, individual streams of conscious numbers in a world of numbers.

I leave you with the following quote from one of my favorite authors:

“The intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.” ― Terry Pratchett, Jingo

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