99. Why this would have been read differently if it was my post #100
We can’t help it. We attach significance even when it isn’t necessarily there. We bake it into our culture. We create it to justify it. And sometimes it’s quite the hen-and-the-egg situation.
This post is no exception. In fact, that’s what it’s about.
It’s my 99th blog post on Medium.
That makes it different than my 14th, my 45th and my 81st. Not because it has to be like that. But because my brain tells me it should be.
It’s obviously not my post #100. No, that has to mean something. One hundred. A special number. Worthy of attention in and of itself.
I’m not going to ask why, much less try to answer. I know too little to make a qualified guess. But I will say a little about how I’ve experienced the strange magic of numbers.
Ridiculing the arbitrary doesn’t make it less real
When I turned 30, a couple of things happened, that I found interesting. I was a little worried that I’d have some sort of mild crisis. This didn’t happen. I was also not at all worried that other people would see me differently. This did happen.
Suddenly, 22 year olds saw me as old, which wasn’t the case before (“29? At least you’re not 30!”). 35 year olds on the other hand, stopped seeing me as young. (“Oh, you’re in your 30's. Like me.”)
I didn’t feel the change from within, but I definitely felt the one from without. Even if I – objectively speaking – was only a little older. It was interesting to observe, even if also a bit frustrating at times.
Round numbers make things seem simpler
Nobody ever says “Let’s get it to 494!”, unless they have a VERY specific reason for choosing that number. Trying to reach 500 happens all the time, though.
The larger the number, the more this becomes true. We don’t attach significane to 10.009, but to 10.000, even though there’s nine more [something] in the first number. It’s just a nicer, cleaner number, that makes it easier for us to relate to.
When we sold (latex) swords, and I had just started as Marketing Boss and was first getting a. first look at our products, I came across some weird anomalies. It turned out that the company had been adjusting sales prices in different countries to make them simple for locals. By some number freakiness, that meant that we had swords that had a price difference of more than 10% from country to country without it being by design. There’d just been rounding off happening, that had made the prices drift quite far apart.
They make facts easier to swallow
There’s an oft-quoted study about violinists needing 10.000 hours of study to become really good. That has been extrapolated to other fields, and the idea of mastery requiring 10.000 hours is quite popular. Not only is it a bit misleading (as some excellent articles on the study show), it’s also suspicious that it’s such a nice number.
I’d argue that the “roughly 10.000" makes it much more palatable, though. Imagine someone saying “It takes roughly 9.350 hours to become a master at something.”
It’s not clean. It’s not simple. It begs questions like “Why not roughly 9.300? Or 9.500? Or just 9.000?”. It sounds specific, and that makes it strange. While “roughly 10.000" sounds credible. Not too specific, but significant. I have a feeling that interpretation of the study would have gotten less traction if it had said 9.350 instead.
Of course, it might just be my mind that works like this.
Life isn’t orderly, but we want it to be
The metric system is brilliant. 1, 10, 100. Volume is easy to figure out. Temperature has a logic to it. Length is easy to measure. It’s smart.
The American/Imperial system? Clusterfuck city. Ounces, yards, Fahrenheit, pounds, miles. Nothing fits together. Nothing is clean. It’s a mess.
Yet, it’s somehow more true to reality. I really don’t like it, but I feel it’s more representative of how the world actually works.
For Cthulhu’s sake, let’s not use it, but let’s at least acknowledge that it’s good for teaching complexity and is a good metaphor.
I could have written about anything, but chose to write about numbers
Even while trying to shine on light on the apparenty ridiculousness of the phenomenon, I fall prey to it. And why didn’t I write this post as #92 or #46? Because it seems more fitting this way. Even though it also feels silly.
The worst is that now I have think about what to write about for my post #100.
I just know that it has to be something profound and insightful.
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