Here’s a term that I recently learned that’s worth knowing: a micromort. Unless you’re an actuary or have swallowed a dictionary, you probably haven’t come across this term before. I only know it due to spending the last couple of years absorbing myself in the world of insurance, and it’s worth knowing—and not just for potential Scrabble points.
So what is a micromort? It’s a measurement used to calculate risk. You know the classic “one a million” ? Well, that’s one micromort when talking about your chances of dying. Granted, saying, “that’s a micromort!” doesn’t sound quite as flash as “that’s one in a million!”, but we love it, especially when it’s used to calculate risk. And whilst humans can be pretty great at crunching numbers, we’re not that great at truly perceiving and understanding risk. Even in a global pandemic.
Where previously, we could be blinded by optimistic bias (the notion that we’re the exception to the rule and optimistic tendency to believe that we are less likely to be affected by something, even though statistically, that’s not true; it’s other people who get in accidents, get diagnosed with cardiovascular disease or diabetes), the last 18 months and their messages of risk have caused us to tip over to the other extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to assessing potential dangers in our ordinarily mundane activities. Years ago, I gave a friend a voucher to go parachuting (8 micromorts, or 8 in a million). Last year, my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby daughter (150 micromorts). My colleague, David, ran a marathon last week (8 micromorts). All of these life’s treasures were carried out with little to no thought on the likelihood that they’d kill us. But what about now? How do we look at these, and other activities, with a hyper-sensitive risk lens?
The fact of the matter is, as humans, we are terrible at assessing risk, the pandemic has just forced us to acknowledge it. We feel safer driving in a car than flying on a plane (even though you are significantly less likely to die when traveling by the latter), and now with COVID-19, debate whether it’s safe to go to a restaurant (and if you do, look for an outdoor booking or assess how well-ventilated the venue is), and toss up whether it’s worth going to the supermarket or going for an online click-and-collect. Others are worried about the risk of side-effects from a life-saving vaccine, those of which are nanoscopic when compared to the risk of experiencing devastating side-effects and poor outcomes when infected with COVID-19. We are now micro-scrutinising every aspect of our life and measuring any and all actions by micromorts. In a pandemic with a largely unvaccinated population (at least it is here at the time of writing), this is an arguably ‘necessary evil’ mental exercise to bear, and our perceptions will likely require an element of re-training once the population is adequately vaccinated so that we can understand that going to see friends, sitting in a bar, or going to a concert carries far fewer micromorts than it did during the height of the pandemic. We made it through the last however many hundreds of thousands of years by assessing and surviving risky situations, and hopefully, this will be no different.
The short and thick of it is, life is balancing act of risks along a tightrope—it’s just that the tightrope feels far longer, and much shakier right now than we’re used to. If we under-compensate in the face of risks? We’ll make reckless decisions that kill us (or others), dramatically impacting the length of our lives. But if we over-compensate… then, what’s to say of the quality of our life? Risk is everywhere: got stairs in your house? That could kill you. Candles? They start housefires each year, but keep in mind, so can using the wrong lightbulbs. Electric blankets? Great for winter, but they can catch fire and kill you too. What about your couch? Comfy? Wrong: potential killer! Inactivity from sitting on the couch and the resultant cardiovascular disease and diabetes are, statistically, more likely to kill you (but then again, several people die each year due to malfunctioning home-exercise equipment). I haven’t even gone into your backyard yet and told you about ladders, power tools, dogs, and wasps. But, I think you get the point. It’s a lot to objectively process, and as much as we’d love our brains to be super-computers and understand how today’s decisions and situations will affect the tomorrow, they simply aren’t wired that way. And maybe that’s for the best: if we constantly assessed every situation under the lens of ‘potential threats’, the quality of our life itself would be under threat. Instead, why not focus on things within our control?
Fortunately, that’s where we step in. HeadUp brings together a world class team of engineers, data scientists and clinical experts, who cleverly combine to provide a personalised platform that assesses health, identifies risk and provides the best possible insights into every life. They help us make constructive, focused, independent change—pandemic or not,—achieved by informing, educating, and empowering us to better manage, or minimise risk. And hey, in a time where balance feels far from possible, we’re lucky to have a tool that reminds of things we can control, and lets us focus on a life that is worth living.