Liz has a great post about quantified reading and the stress it can induce when we set goals for things that are supposed to be enjoyable. I commented there, but I kept thinking about the ways in which tracking and quantification of everyday habits has permeated the lives of so many of us. Part of it is human nature; making “best of” lists and remembering things in relation to other things is enjoyable. But these tendencies are exacerbated by incentives to make money off them. It isn’t new, of course: Cosmo was doing “10 best ways to put the spark back in your relationship” before I was old enough to have sparky relationships. But it’s so much more pervasive now because of the need for content that generates ad clicks and the technological advances that let us keep track of everything.
I started doing reading challenges a few years ago. The original idea was to help me track my reading and to expand my range of reading material. After several years of participating in Romancelandia and especially while reviewing for Dear Author I was reading romance almost exclusively, and newly released romance novels at that. I missed the other genres, but a steady diet of short, easy-to-digest genre fiction had reduced my ability to read longer and more complex work. Reading challenges like PopSugar gave me a way to branch out and feel like I was accomplishing something.
This approach was helpful in getting me back to reading a wider variety of fiction, and the Mt. TBR and Harlequin challenges highlighted the discrepancy between what I was reading and the books that were piling up unread because I couldn’t resist a new release or a sale. But they also stressed me out: would I make my TBR challenge goal, how many books would I read, how many underrepresented authors was I reading, etc. etc. Not meeting a number, however arbitrarily that number had been chosen, seemed like a failure. A small failure, but still a failure.
Reading isn’t the only area in which I’ve quantified some quotidian aspect of my life. Like most women I’ve counted calories, tracked everything I’ve eaten, and generally made food a focus of scrutiny. I lost the most weight (and kept it off) when I stopped doing that, and I haven’t dieted in any meaningful way in years. But I still get the urge to do so, especially when I put on a few pounds or see yet another “easy” way to track my food intake. The various hacks of apps like My Fitness Pal have helped me avoid getting back on that psychological treadmill, though.
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