Buy the Numbers, by Colette Brooks

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[Readings]

Buy the Numbers

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From Trapped in the Present Tense, which will be published next month by Counterpoint Press.

It’s possible to construct a statistical mosaic of American life out of the 332 million people and 120,756,048 households across the country (the 552,830 persons who were homeless as of 2018 are, from a data-collection standpoint, all but invisible). There is much we know about Americans. Many are superstitious: 13 percent believe that the number thirteen is unlucky, 22 percent knock on wood, and 14 percent think a rabbit’s foot brings good luck. Some 14 percent throw salt over their shoulder when necessary, 18 percent won’t open an umbrella indoors, and 21 percent avoid walking under ladders outside. About 23 percent try extra hard not to break a mirror, 42 percent believe in ghosts, 65 percent believe in karma, 47 percent believe that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone, 27 percent are convinced that the government is hiding aliens in Area 51, and 11 percent think the moon landing was faked. And 22 percent contend that climate change is a hoax and no action need be taken to combat it, which means that even more Americans may come to believe in karma in the future. One can track Americans’ attitudes toward one another as well. First dates: 25 percent of men and 31 percent of women are irritated by dates who chew food very loudly, while about 70 percent of both men and women are bothered by dates who text during dinner. More men than women dislike dates who take pictures of food for social media, and 5 percent of men and 9 percent of women dislike dates who don’t offer to split the bill. Speaking of bills—credit bureaus: 67 percent of Americans consider them a necessary fact of life, while 36 percent hate them more than the IRS, a level of intensity that can hardly be charted. Cell phones: insurance vendors report that, at sporting events, 13 percent of broken phones were damaged when owners spilled beer on them, while another 12 percent were totaled when claimants, by their own admission, threw their devices in anger, possibly while looking up their FICO scores. When it comes to singing, 64 percent of Americans think songs sound best when sung in English, while 10 percent prefer to sing along in Italian. There are 41 million Americans who speak Spanish at home, while 1.2 million speak Arabic. Staying home may be advisable: Americans make 178 million trips every day over bridges deemed structurally deficient by engineers. You’re also likelier to die from a dog attack than a plane crash. And if you have a tattoo, there’s a 23 percent chance you already regret it. Americans generate data from the moment they’re first tagged with a Social Security number. Using social media, search engines, and e-commerce sites adds exponentially to the commodification of information. Which means if you’re driving on a bridge while singing in Italian and throwing salt over your shoulder while watching YouTube re-creations of the moon landing on a cell phone you just spilled beer on, then someone will know it. It’s a mania that can now be monetized, if only by those who know their numbers.


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