Wednesday, 10 September 2014

I am a series of numbers. I am a free man.

Patrick McGoohan famously said in The Prisoner, "I am not a number! I'm a free man!"

It was the catchphrase and motto of the whole TV series, born in counter-culture 60s: the struggle of the individual against the oppression of government, bureaucracy, and man-made systems which treat humans as units rather than people.

But I've realised, the opposite is true for my life today. Numbers give me freedom. They are a symbol of my freedom and agency.

In the TV show, McGoohan is "Number 6" in the mysterious Village he can never escape from. We never learn his name - an excellent plot device which deepens the mystery - but he is insistent on his humanity, and repeatedly says he is not just a number.

While I would absolutely agree with the defiant statement on civil liberties, this blog post is more literally about numbers, and about travel.

I've been lucky enough to live abroad for nearly 6 years now. There are particular things that helped me do this - things like being British, being a native English-speaker, earning and borrowing money.

But what really shines through are the numbers.

In a modern, technological society where we use systems to pay for things and book things and process the services we need, numbers are essential.

I am my flight number and my departure gate number and my seat number.

I am my passport number and the barcode on my boarding pass.

I am my Australian Tax Office number and my NZ Inland Revenue Department number and my UK Student Loans Company Customer Reference Number.

I am my visa numbers and my visa application numbers.

I am my Facebook URL and my Twitter username.

I am my UK phone number and my NZ phone number and my Australian phone number.

I am currency exchange rates.

I am my bank account numbers and my PayPal passwords and my debit card number.

I am time zones and international phone codes and my Skype username at silly times of the night.

I am measurement conversions between metric and imperial.

I am all of these things.

This isn't a political statement in favour of bureaucracy. The story of the 20th century is one of mechanisation; millions continue to suffer in very real ways through the heartlessness of systems which do not account for the circumstances of individuals, which put barriers between people and other people.

But I am not afraid of numbers, nor the endless bureaucracy that feeds on them.

We all use and need numbers and codes in our daily lives - paying rent, texting friends, setting up accounts. But for me they are a symbol of my transitory life, and they enable it. Numbers are my bat belt.

I am a series of numbers, and luckily, gratefully, I am a free man.

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