Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Life on Track

I'm obsessed with tracking things. Let me explain what I mean by that. When I refer to tracking, I mean I like keeping track of the types of media I consume. Websites like Goodreads, for example, which allows me to keep track of every book I have read, am reading, or will ever want to read. I don't just use these sites to keep track, though, I use them to motivate me to keep active. There is just something psychologically which make me more apt to do things if I'm being tracked. So, I am possibly (read: definitely) obsessed with tracking what I do.

I have a wide variety of interests. I love to read books, watch movies, play games, watch TV shows, listen to music, follow sports, read comics, and so on. Having a way to keep track of these things makes managing my passions that much easier. For most of those just listed, I use some sort of website to keep a tally of what I've done. I’m always on the lookout for more of these kinds of trackers. But here's the issue: I'm not altogether sure if this is good for me.

When I use these kind of sites, it is almost always only for my benefit. I rarely use the social features such sites provide, like comparing my stats to other fans. Instead, I use it to look back at my time in review. What album did I listen to a year ago today? I could tell you in a few minutes by going to LastFM. How many movies have I seen from the 1990s? I would check my Letterboxd account for that. The sort of stat-keeping that these sites provide is perfect for a neurotic person, like me apparently. It's sort of like stats in a role-playing game (for how many I've played, I look at my Backloggery).

I'm so crazy about this, I use two sites for music alone. LastFM automatically logs my tracks, then I manually add my albums to the site, BestEverAlbums. Here's something insane: if I listen to a CD in my car, I will play the album later on the computer later so the songs are added1. And if there is not a good existing site, I'm not above creating my own spreadsheets, as I've done for some sporting events. Yes, it's excessive. I'm well aware.

Excessive, sure, but harmless, right? That's what I'm trying to determine. I really don't like the thought of reading something, and then NOT immediately rating and adding it to my lists. I'm worried that as I get deeper and deeper into these kind of websites, that I'm no longer enjoying the thing itself, but rather the filling in of the thing to a list. I'm not to that point yet, of course, but I do still shudder at the thought of not keeping track of what I'm doing. And I've been doing this for years! Is it too late for me?! Can I just enjoy reading a book like a normal person, or am I a slave to the lists I have created?

Here’s the benefit, though: tracking websites really do get me to do more of said thing. I listen to way more music if I know it’s being automatically tallied. I read more to fill in gaps in my Goodreads. I run more miles just to look at the stats. See, these are positives2. These dumb websites actually do a lot to drive what I do. And I think this cannot be a bad thing.

So basically, if you want to get me into something, it might be a waste of time extolling its virtues. Just give me a tracking website with a nice interface, some charts or graphs, and some stats I can dig into. Geocaching might be a lot of fun, but I’m going to need a neat graphic to keep me going3. I’ll be happy as a clam. I mean, if I’m going to do something, it better be worth cataloging.

But in the end, I'm a stats and numbers kind of person. Analytical by nature, seeing how many books I read last year in a concise number is personally a good feeling. I like being able to visualize my 'accomplishments,' if you consider my free time an accomplishment (and I do). It doesn't take anything away from the enjoyment I felt (or didn't feel, as the case may be), and sometimes it is a perfect reminder to see a forgotten book on my virtually logged shelf and know that I liked it.

1 But played on silent only, of course; otherwise, I would have to track it twice. It’s weird. I’m weird. I know.
2 Although I am currently experimenting with some beer tracking apps, so we’ll see.
3 For example.