The Numburban Human

I am a numburban human being – living in an urban place and so benumbed by numbers that I shudder to teach my daughter nursery rhymes because some of them go – ‘one two buckle my shoe….’! Are you a numburban human too? Read on to figure out….

In India, a place is urban if it has a minimum of 5000 people, a density of at least 400 people per square kilometer and at least 75% of the male working population engaged in non-agricultural activity (…and much of the work done by the females of the population goes unrecorded!!)

Did you notice how everything is defined with the help of numbers!

In India there are about 8000 cities. About half this number ‘look and feel’ like cities but are not ‘treated’ like cities as they  have village Panchayats as local government instead of Urban Local Bodies. These are the Census Towns -essentially urban areas scoring perfectly on all above mentioned numbers but governed and serviced like villages.

But, that’s besides the point (we’ll come back to it in a later post). Today we are going to understand the origin of the Numburban Human

Cities are defined with the help of numbers like population, area, GDP, carbon emissions, crime rate, literacy rate, gender ratio etc.; and everything in cities is also numbered – houses, pillars, poles, trees, street furniture, dustbins, vehicles, furniture in offices etc. Even human beings are numbered – at birth by the hospital number tags; in school and college by roll numbers and ranks; and as working people by insurance, Pan, licence, employee and aadhar numbers..the list is endless. Whether it is measure of material wealth of people (being bankrupt or a billionaire or a gazillionnaire etc…), or that of their physical dimensions (height, weight, girth etc), you need numbers.

Let us try and understand how numbers have taken over the planet earth (at least the urbanized areas of the planet)… Take for example, a regular village  – you ask directions to somebody’s house by simply giving the name. You are then told that you could take a right from the well and the house under the big neem tree is the house…(or something on those lines)

But, in a regular city, it is impossible to find somebody’s house without being equipped with a variety of numbers – you need the house number, floor number, building number, block number, sector number, pin-code, and sometimes even the street and gate number. And then, if you still can’t locate it, you need to call on the person’s mobile number by unlocking your phone with a pin number!!! Sometimes, GPS comes to your rescue – it only tells you in numbers how many hours and minutes would it take you to reach your destination at what speed!!! And then when the host asks for your car number to inform the guard at the gate, you curse yourself…. you know why? – you have to get down and check the number…(well, some of us have to)

Your position on the globe is given by numbers – latitude and longitude. So is the distance between places, the depth of the seas, and the distance to stars and planets (although I fail to understand why we ever studied this in school). Train numbers, bus numbers, platform numbers, shoe size and the height of heels….Then there are formulas and conversions, and somewhere I heard, they are now going to number cows like they have the tigers!!

You measure friendships (on Facebook) and your own heartbeat with numbers. It seems it is very important to get a minimum number of likes on profile pics etc. Then one day, I wanted to buy an I phone and people asked me which one – so I said, ‘I-phone, you know, the Apple one’… and they asked ‘ but 4 or 5 or 6? ‘ Then one day, I joined Twitter – God!!! don’t even mention the number 140 to me!!

From inches of a television to pixels of a camera to slimness of a phone to non-slimness of a waist – everything is measured in numbers… Let’s not even start about ‘number’ of calories consumed or the extra ‘number’ of kilograms!! Which year is this, when is your birthday, what is your age  – all answers are numerical.. Medicine doses, eye-glasses, sugar levels etc. are numbered and so are the days in one’s life (as wise people say). You have to agree – we would be lost without numbers – even our passwords need numbers to be strong!! Heck – even a child is born in 9 months or 40 weeks!! Seriously – I am observing two-minutes silence in respect for mathematicians everywhere…and for accountants (who live amidst numbers and still don’t pull their hair out?)

As a result of this ‘numerical overdose’, Urban dwellers have evolved from homo sapiens sapiens to homo numburbanis – humans rendered numb by numbers – otherwise quite functional and intelligent, these beings have become completely dependent on numbers to organize their lives and further dependent on machines to organize the numerous numbers in their lives! While you ponder the significance of what I just said, I conclude with two quotes in words about numbers (but with no numerical value) for you to further ponder –

‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’ (is that why our cities are unmanageable?)

‘Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts!’ (is that why we still love our unmanageable cities??)

Happy Pondering!!!

Contributed by Kanak Tiwari


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