Quantitative

Strava, in many rights, is a wonderful tool. From your pocket, whether you use a dedicated device or run it off your phone, you can keep dizzyingly accurate stats of your physical activities. Obviously, this open-access quantification tool is a boon for cyclists. Because people that ride bikes, despite some efforts to conceal the fact with a “you lead bro, so long as we grab a beer afterward” attitude, are inclined to have the Type A trait of neurotically tracking and ordering. As a staunch retrogrouch-cum-databoi, I know this all too well.

Each user has unfettered (well, there is some fettering, but not in an overly limiting way) access to a whole collection of fascinating facts: average speeds, cumulative weekly distances, calendared metrics, goals!, you-name-it. All of this information is collected, catalogued, and stored away for your free review. Gone are the days of riding a mystical new route, and upon revisiting, finding yourself irreparably lost. It’s neat, kind of.

Then there’s the crushing weight of data anxiety. A modern phenomenon, the fear of missing out (FOMO) arises from even a niggling thought that you forget to hit record. Or maybe your GPS cut out, and your record was left incomplete, inaccurate, or, in the worst case scenario, lost entirely. It’s a war of attrition being waged on our sense of satisfaction: With greater amounts of information, comes even greater neurosis in having an accurate record to extoll achievements.

Being a social application, where sharing your information with friends and strangers alike is a key feature, FOMO is enhanced, as if your failings to record were akin to a gunshot in an echo chamber. Strava does it’s best to compensate for this, pegging your activities to others done at the same time and place, but quantitative neurosis is like a pernicious parasite burrowed deep in your psyche. Despite eagerly casual “if it’s not on Strava, you didn’t do it!” jokes, the sheer terror, of logging a faulty ride and the subsequent butterfly affect it has on your pristine dataset, is mind-jarringly real.

Add to this segments and push notifications, and you have a real big problem. Rides are transformed, from a mental release similar to a zen experience, to an uncomfortable, nervous exercise more like one of those dreams you have where you realize you never graduated from college (and you are butt-ass naked). Consequently, the rule, “Set your legs free and your mind will follow,” needs amending: The conditional ought to be added, “Unless you’re in the habit of recording, because in that case your hope to chill out is null-and-void.”

Then again, I guess that maybe Strava as a tool is only introducing an age-old concept to a larger audience, and I fit into that broad market segment of people that “never knew what I was missing out on”. If you’re achievement-driven, it works, but damn does it make your skin crawl when your ride record misses a beat.

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