Is everything quantifiable

Measurements: Limits of Messmania

Digitization dramatically reduces the cost of measuring a huge number of activities. Accordingly, (almost) everything is measured, a true mess mania has broken out. Silicon Valley companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Microsoft suck up information, and the secret services are also involved. Everyone tries to get the best out of the mountains of data.

Bruno S. Frey

is a permanent visiting professor for political economy at the University of Basel

Precisely because so much is recorded quantitatively today, people's need for the immeasurable areas of life is increasing. They assign increasing importance to aspects that (at least so far) have eluded measurement. People feel that as a result of the progressive measurement of everything and everyone, they can no longer independently determine their needs. They feel that their "intrinsic preferences" are being suppressed. This includes personal relationships in marriage, love and friendships. This also applies to interpersonal trust. Of course, there are many approaches to measuring trust. In a relationship, however, trying to quantify it is highly questionable: you either trust someone else or you don't.

Recognition by other people is also an area where measurability is downright frowned upon. Personal appreciation cannot be sensibly quantified. Awards in companies and other organizations express unmeasurable recognition, in contrast to performance-based bonuses.

Mess mania cannot be successfully combated head-on, because it is the result of a huge reduction in costs. One can try to evade it, however. A place of retreat for this is "home". This place of identity and belonging cannot be measured, it is a vague feeling that is important. The movement "back to nature" is closely linked to this. It expresses the longing for a direct relationship to the original, which cannot be quantified either. The increasing demand for "natural" products from regional or local agriculture, which are considered "organic", vegetarian or vegan, confirms this need. The preference for dialects and traditional clothing such as traditional costumes as well as for attending rural sports and music events also makes this clear. Such events are more popular than ever. So yodelling festivals have become a trend in Switzerland. On the menu cards of well-kept restaurants today it is shown which local farmer the eggs and meat come from. Publications that paint a largely romanticized picture of rural life are in vogue. So there is Country love, country magic, country idyll and many others. The edition of Country lust, one of the most successful magazines in German-speaking countries has exceeded the million mark.

The realm of the immeasurable is in constant danger of falling into quantification. For example, friendship is attempted to be measured on the basis of likes on the Internet. The joy of jogging is accompanied by a constant measurement of all possible health data. Yet everyone knows that this does not capture the essence of feeling, thinking and acting.

Digitization and the measurements that go with it have a huge impact on our lives. This mess mania cannot be stopped. Nevertheless, we are not completely defenseless, so that it will not completely overwhelm us. People have the creativity to dodge into areas that cannot be measured.