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My Life Controlled by Numbers
撰文者: Wayne 發表日期: October 3, 2010 – 7:23 am

My Life has been reduced to numbers, a disappointing truth that I have been reluctant to accept. I’m identified in real life by a series of numbers – my cell phone number, my ID number, my credit card numbers, and all the rest of it.

I’m not good at math, and I hate it since I was a kid. But numbers prevail in my life – there is no way for me to escape from them. Thanks to today’s fantastic computing technologies with no human touch, I’m also digitalized in the cyber space, where my identities, all numbered and registered, are my passports to the online services I’m using. I always keep my log in information handy in case I get kicked out of the system in the middle of my login session due to inactivity on the browser for an extended period of time.

I have lost track of how I was issued those numbers that are obstinately controlling my life. They are so important that I can’t live without them. I know I’m living in a digitalized world, but it really gives me a headache each time I’m asked to enter a corresponding password to access a specific system, whether it be a virtual website back office or a physical ATM. I set up varied passwords for different systems and, what’s worse, I’m forced to change some of them on a three-month basis. If I mix up those holy numbers, I’ll get myself into a big trouble. Part of my life will be in a mess as a result.

The number of my debit cards increases whenever I switch jobs, but for some reason I don’t know, I can’t remember the passwords for the debit cards I used to use. I feel frustrated each time I’m rejected by an ATM while trying to withdraw only a few hundred bucks. I am a lazy person, so I won’t go to great lengths to close most of my bank accounts with a balance of not many numbers.

Numbers are everywhere in my life. Every morning when I power on my laptop in the office, I’m asked to enter my employee number and password. It makes things more complicated that I have to use another password to access my company’s intranet to apply for leave of absence. My Chinese name is not important to my company’s MIS guys, not at all! I guess nobody, except my mom, cares about it.

The same is true of the online banking system accounts I have. For security reasons, I set up a different password for each account, and I discovered the other day that there is a total of 8 passwords for all my accounts. Fortunately, I had written them down on a piece of paper, which I keep in a secret place only God and I know.

numbers2Numbers are confusing, numbers are frustrating, and numbers are something we can’t live without in this digitalized globe. You can fake your name, but you can’t fabricate a password linked to a specific person at the drop of a hat. Sadly, this isn’t the case with hackers or government agencies. You’ve probably seen it in movies. Changing identity and identity theft are common motifs in films: a secret agent who’s sick and tired of killing fakes his or her own death and starts over in a new country; a female mob informant gets set up in the Witness Protection Program only to be brutally murdered by the people who were supposed to protect her; someone steals the main character’s identity, wreaks havoc on his life, and eventually forces him to fight back for survival.

In the movie ‘The Bourne Identify’, Jason Bourne, played by Matt Damon, is a highly trained assassin, who is found floating adrift at sea with two gunshot wounds in his back. He wakes up and discovers he has no memory of who he is and why he possesses unusual skills. Later, Jason notices he needs the answer fast if he is to survive the evil attempts to erase his existence. To me, the whole plot is excellently organized. The fight scenes are fast and fascinating. When he was approached in Zürich by two police officers who are trying to arrest him, Jason Bourne incapacitates them both using his amazing hand-to-hand combat. The car chases in the film are also breathlessly choreographed, bringing a great deal of excitement to the movie. I love this film. It is well directed and well acted. As spy thriller goes, ‘The Bourne Identify’ should be one of the best around. I give it an eight on a scale of ten.

With this being said, identity theft in real life is a totally different story. It could be a harrowing experience for the victim. I had my registration plate stolen while I was working as a translator for a localization company in Boston. Thank God that I immediately reported this incident to the police, because I was informed later that the theft had replaced his plate with mine on his vehicle before robbing a bank. I didn’t know the consequences of identity theft until then. I was lucky enough not to have assumed it was just a case of petty vandalism and wise enough to have done what I was supposed to do. If the criminal had used the same make, model and color of car as mine and I hadn’t reported the theft, it could have been very difficult to prove my innocence.

I also heard of an identify fraud incident, where the theft stole and used the victim’s identifying details without his knowledge. The identity details were misused to obtain loans from a local bank in Taiwan, and it took several weeks before the victim discovered that his identity had been used fraudulently, by which time a big loan had been granted to the theft and huge debts had been rung up in the victim’s name. The whole mess was said to have been settled through legal procedures in court. But I guess the victim must have gone through an extended period of stress before solving this matter and restoring his credit rating.

My life circles around numbers, a sad truth that reminds me of a book titled ‘The Math Curse’. In this brilliantly-illustrated book, the narrator, who is a nameless girl, is afflicted with a ‘math curse’ the day after her teacher announces that one can think of almost everything as a math problem. She enters a bizarre realm where things get increasingly related to math, thus making her a ‘math zombie’. Some questions she asks herself are logical  (It takes 10 minutes to get dressed. / How many quarts are in a gallon?), while others are silly and far-fetched (How many M&Ms would it take to measure the length of the Mississippi River?). Even English becomes a problem (If mail + box = mailbox… Does lipstick – stick = lip?). It’s fun to read the book. But I do hope I will never get into a situation as this girl does. I’ve already got enough things to worry about. No math, please!

‘The Math Curse’ only belongs to the realm of science fiction. But Scientific American math columnist, Ian Stewart, takes things further by calling mathematics the underlying force controlling the universe. His book ‘Nature’s Numbers’ investigates patterns of form, shape, number, and movement in the world around us, saying that almost everything, ranging from dripping water from a tap to the symmetries of molecules and galaxies, is an external phenomenon governed by simplicity that Mother Nature holds at her core. Judging from Stewart’s logics, I guess my life is being controlled, both physically and spiritually, by mathematical equations. Again, there is no way for me to escape from numbers.

Women are sensitive to numbers. They keep numbers in their brains as precisely as the computer does – the date their boyfriend kissed them for the firs time, their weights, the calories they eat every day, and bills, etc. Sometimes, the war between a man and a woman can be summarized as “wrong number vs right number”.

Woman: You know, today is a special date for us.
Man: Well… I guess so.
Woman: You don’t remember!?
Man: I’m sorry.
Woman: Two weeks ago you kissed me for the first time at ‘I swear’ cafe.

It’s true that numbers are confusing. However, they may provide amazing powers under certain circumstances, for they can be used  to track down criminals. In the CSI-like drama ‘Numb3rs’, Charlie and Don cooperate as a crime-fighting team. They use reason and logic, instead of blood spatter and DNA swabs, to solve the crime. ‘Everything is numbers’ is a statement by Charlie in the pilot of ‘Numb3rs’. As I said earlier, I hate math, but I love this show. The producers do a good job of translating mathematics into terms that make sense to me, often using visual aides to explain the principles involved in a clever way. I am amazed at Charlie’s scribbling formulas on chalkboards that deduct a rapist’s next target by comparing his pattern to a sprinkler system and then help Don catch the rapist with his team of agents and save the day.

I’m glad that I’m not alone in complaining ‘my life has been reduced to numbers.’  A Chinese writer, Wu Lucian, wrote an intriguing piece of prose to express his mixed feelings about how numbers were in control of his life.

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