I count myself a devoted disciple of Michael Pollan, the author of numerous books on humans' relationship to food and plants. In his book In Defense of Food, Pollan suggests that after decades of counting calories, obsessing about nutrients, and being whiplashed back and forth with contradictory studies on how salubrious (or deleterious) the latest fad is, it’s time to arrive at the simplicity on the other side of all this complexity. We’ve descended into needless details about proteins, carbs, and nutrients when first principles will serve us better, which is why he offers up a simple mantra: “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” I sense that for many, after years of being mired in so much complexity, we’re seeking simple principles to guide our relationship to our food.
But as we land on this simplicity with our relationship to food, we are still stuck in the middle of complexity when it comes to our relationship to data. We’re in the counting calories stage, and we’re obsessed with capturing and tracking everything: steps per day, number of times we turn over in the middle of the night, the trends in energy usage of our fridge, if we’re braking soft enough to warrant a discount on our auto insurance. This is the age of “more is more” with our data, and we’re binging on it. I imagine that our relationship to data will follow our relationship to food, and we’ll settle on first principles after going through a long season of being obsessed with an inexorable quest for optimization. Until then, data disorders will become as popular as eating disorders. If you’re interested in this frontier, check out this exceptional podcast on the strategy and history of Whoop, the wearable heart-rate monitor that is intended to be worn 24/7/365 so we can optimize every minute of every day.