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Quantified beer

It is 1:49 pm and I have taken 1,904 steps*.

I have eaten 714 calories so far today. Last night I got five hours and seven minutes of sleep, waking up nine times during the night**.

I know these things because I am a tourist in the quantified self movement. I have a Fitbit that measures my steps taken, floors climbed and hours slept. Each night I diligently remove the Fitbit from its clip case and slide it into a wristband, which I wrap around my left wrist before holding a button to put it into sleep mode. Each morning I wake up, press the button again and put it back into the clip, which is then attached to a pocket. My foods are tracked with MyFitnessPal, which helpfully alerts my wife and friends if I haven’t logged in recently.

I don’t check in on Foursquare, because I don’t know why anyone would do that. I do, however, check in to every beer I drink on Untappd.

I have no idea why. And yet, when I was handed a glass of 2XIPA on Sunday, I immediately reached for my phone.

Drinking alone

I’m not saying there isn’t any reason to use Untappd: just that I’m confused as to why I do. It’s not just dry beer tracking software: it also has a hearty social media component, where your friends can “toast” and comment on check-ins. You can rate the beers you drink and attach a picture to a check-in. I do not do any of that. I open the app, log the beer, close the app. Periodically I see that some of the friends I’ve added out of a combination of guilt and obligation (you know, like 80% of my Facebook friends) have toasted me. That’s nice. If I see one of them has been drinking Frank I might give them a toast as well.

I am an antisocial social network user. It’s all well and good to scroll through and see what Rudy’s been drinking, but honestly I don’t really care. Nothing against you, Rudy. When I force myself to think about why I use Untappd, the best I can come up with (besides craving the dopamine release that comes with unlocking a badge***) is that I want to have a log of my activities. I can look at it in the future! I won’t, but I could, if I wanted to. That’s the thing with the quantified self trend: you have to do something with the data. Thus far, with the exception of regulating my caloric intake, I’ve been recording data for data’s sake.

Rate(ing) beer

You can also assign a 0.5-5 star rating for the beer you’re drinking. I have gone through periods of rating and not rating and then rating again. It’s somewhat hard for me now, because I’m not going to rate any of our beers: oh, I think The IPA is quite good? How surprising.

This is complicated by my taking an E-Prime approach to beer: beer is incredibly subjective. I hesitate to say “Beer N is” anything: only that I get or do not get specific characteristics from it, and that on the whole I enjoy or do not enjoy it. I also think that ratings are inextricably linked to other factors: who brewed it? What’s the style? How much did I pay for it? What do the beer geeks think of it? These things matter, like it or not.

Ethan and I were talking about this as we staffed Bidwell last week. He told me he had brought a bottle of Southern Tier’s 2X Steam to a friend’s house and quite enjoyed drinking it on the porch, enjoying the weather. He later discovered that it “only” scored a 71 on RateBeer. He didn’t care, of course, but others may have. “Is there a cutoff,” he wondered, “under which you won’t bother with a beer?”

Living on the right side of the bell curve

It’s different for everyone. I know I have a number, though I don’t know what it is. Probably under 50, with 60-80 being roughly the same to account for taste (“I hate porters! 60.” “This is a great porter! 85.”)

Why do I care, though? The answer is simple: because if I’m having one beer tonight, it should be the one I’ll enjoy the most. Right?

Yes. Well, kind of. This is perhaps an odd thing to say, but I don’t think everything has to be amazing all the time. In beer and in life I want to avoid the things that really suck. Paying $550 to have my car fixed? I can skip that, no problem. Wild Blue? Ditto. But if everything is amazing then nothing is amazing. You can’t have highs without lows, or at least mediums. If you highlight an entire book you’re left with yellow paper.

Not everything has to be revelatory.

It seems like I’m saying that I want to drink mediocre beer sometimes. I’m not, except to maybe say that mediocre beer isn’t actually mediocre. I’m also willing to put my theory to the test: if someone would like to deliver a mixed case of Dark Lord, Pliny the Elder and Westvleteren 12 to my house, I’ll drink nothing but them for an entire month. Until then, I will avoid bad beer and instead content myself to drink good beer, great or not.

The only thing sillier than rating beer is me

You know what is arguably dumb? Debating whether a beer is a 74/100 or a 76/100. You know what’s definitely dumb? Spending 983 words discussing the theory of debating whether a beer is a 74/100 or a 76/100.

I hereby baptize you all as Discordians. You are now prohibited from believing what you read.

* This is abysmal, even moreso because I took 900 of them between midnight and 1 am.
** ibid. Washing kegs is a harsh mistress.
*** “I accomplished something today! I drank my third IPA in a 30 day period.”