Getting a graphing calculator was exciting. At a certain point, math classes required that you have one. When I first got one, all the extra buttons held such possibilities. Thrilling possibilities. I didn’t know how to work it, but I knew that once I achieved mastery with the functions of this sophisticated quantifier, I would not be limited by the speed of my own base writing, but be unlocked through the speed of the machine’s power. My performance would reach new heights. All I had to do wass learn the machine’s tricks and then I would not have to laboriously suffer through math class as I had in the past. The calculator’s automatic quantification would set me free.

It didn’t really work that way. The excitement wore off. It turned out I only used the real basic functions of the calculator. You could program functions that were helpful for calculus and what not, but that took a good amount of work. It wasn’t a straightforward process. You were better off just learning the equations you needed to know. Maybe write them on a sheet of scrap paper. The magical quantifying contraption was not the panacea to the problem of numbers. There was no way around math work being work.

I don’t know if students need to still purchase graphing calculators. You must be able to get an app for that on your phone now.

Being an average functioning adult, of course, I never use a calculator. I do see a lot of options, however, in magic quantifying machines. Machines that will do the counting for you, to let you know if what you just did really counted.

Obviously I’m not talking about calculators for school work. I’m talking about wearable technology that will monitor your heart rate, track your steps, and give you evaluative metrics for your physical health and performance. They’re selling by the millions. Apple and Amazon are competing to get you to wear theirs. Some people will get both, putting their hopes into getting their lives on track once the machine tells them what their numbers are and what they should be.

As a professional in the fitness industry, I’ve seen the obsession with counting rise. You could count your calories. But that’s not enough. You need to count your intake of each macronutrient. You could count your workouts. But that’s not enough. You need to count how strenuous each workout is. Your heart rate monitor will tell you. You could count how many hours you sleep. But that’s not enough. Your machine will count the quality of your sleep. We count how much time we spend on our machines, where we rank in the class, how far we biked, how well we rested.

It’s not just physical fitness. We count how much screen time we had; how many books we read; how many mediation sessions we engaged with; how many days you’ve been sober. There’s an app for that. You can count on it. What’s the ideal number for all this? One more or one less could always be an improvement. You can get 1% better each day. Or .5%. Or maybe some other number. But you’ll never know if you’re not measuring. Not without attaching a number. Keep striving. Keep reaching.

Resilience. Courage. Serenity. What numbers do we need to hit? Can we plug in the functions to our counting machines and get the answers? That didn’t work for me in the past. In the end, there was no way around the work, which was the real lesson itself. I couldn’t just punch buttons to find the answer.