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All that I survey ...

Updated on October 27, 2012

What, do you think?

Is it just me, or have we become a survey-addicted society of needy poll-takers, temperature takers, and care-fakers?

I finish a business trip to a hotel, and they want to know how well I enjoyed my lodging experience. I slept and showered there. There was a bed. There was water. It's usually not too different from that, regardless of the experience, at least for business travel.

I take my car in for regular 5,000-mile service, and they want to know whether the service professional asked me if I wanted to have my car washed, whether they jumped for joy when I arrived, or whether they said "God bless" when I sneezed. After my visit, they call me, then email. Then call again. Email twice more. Did I answer already? If my answer isn't "Excellent!!!", then why not? How can we make coming to see us like being in a helicopter dropped onto the Superbowl stage to jam with Prince, then being handed the football and scoring the winning run in front of 6 million adoring viewers?

I understand it's great to get input from customers when embarking on a new business strategy, and with Survey Monkey and other tools on the scene, the opportunities to take the temperature of everyone out there has to be incredibly appealing. But after a while, especially after being hounded three or four times by a place at which I had a nebulous visit for unimportant reasons, to validate their business plan, my opinion turns from neutral to negative. It's not unlike that disingenuous feeling you get when you call a company and get an automated response that says, "We care about your business, so please listen to this instrumental version of Aerosmith's "Dude Looks Like a Lady" for 45 minutes while we do things more important than taking care of your whiny needs, which we really wish you'd handle by combing through 4,000 frequently asked questions instead of calling us!"

Do you take too many polls?

See results
Take my survey and nobody gets hurt...
Take my survey and nobody gets hurt...

Let me count the ways

Of course, this being election season, polls themselves are newsworthy. So, basically, this means we're being asked what we think, then someone publishes what we think, then we register what we think about what we think, by taking polls about the polls. Which, naturally generates all kinds of ego-speak about why everyone else should think like we think despite knowing they don't because we've already surveyed everyone else, and they are pretty embedded into what they think, because the survey said so...

It's like the thermometer taking the temperature of the thermometer. And it's all pretty tepid.

In quantum mechanics, they call this cognitive bias the observer-expectancy effect, and it patterns itself in many forms - the idea that what is observed is affected by the act of observation. So our observations of polls affects the polls themselves. I liken it to the concept of time travel and how, if theoretically possible, a person's actions in the past could create a butterfly effect, regardless of intent.

So each week, some random household is being asked how who they would vote for, as if something new is going to be revealed to change their preference in the election, or some underlying bias is going to suddenly change from one week to the next. And we study these numbers as if they matter, for reasons unclear, because we think our intents are going to pattern themselves out there somehow in some poll.

It's polling for the sake of polling, for reasons that add little to no value in our lives.

Not terribly unlike the car mechanic poll that wants to know whether the service adviser offered me a Kleenex.

How do you feel about what you're reading so far?

See results
Survey says ... ! (Richard Dawson, RIP 2012)
Survey says ... ! (Richard Dawson, RIP 2012)


Of course, I'm just being goofy - I do that from time to time (or perhaps most of the time), because obviously I can just choose to ignore these polls, just like ignoring a call from a number I don't recognize. Speaking of which, I was validated just this week by New York Times pollster Nate Silver, who said he thought there was too much hype around the everyday shifts in political polls.

"People are really bad about how they use polls, [it] can actually get us into trouble," Silver said. "A lot of news is just entertainment masquerading as news."

Campaigns, Silver said, "actually do get it."

"The media is the one who covers the campaign in a silly way a lot of the time," he explained. "A lot of the time nothing happens in a day." (Source

I think the same could be said about most of the polls we get crammed down our throats. If businesses are so intent on every answer being "Excellent!", which isn't physically possible unless we're all on crack (I assume being on crack is excellent, though to be honest, I have no personal experience - just going off this video below someone showed me...), then perhaps few poll takers really want to know what we think.

They want to change what we think. And if that's what they want, they shouldn't patronize us, but instead just continue being the egocentric places that they are.

There. I feel better now.

Survey that!


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    • Gerg profile image

      Gerg 5 years ago from California

      BW - yup. It is a little thing, but annoying little thing, ain't it? ;-)

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 5 years ago from Central Florida

      Greg, I feel the money spent on taking polls should be put in the pockets of the employees of the companies who feel they need to take polls. Pay your people and you won't have to ask your customer, 'how are we doing?'

    • Gerg profile image

      Gerg 5 years ago from California

      That's a good perspective, shiningirisheyes, and I agree with you! Funny, I was listening to the radio station that tells me about traffic on the way home tonight and they were taking a phone-in poll about the endorsements by one of the newspapers, and trying to influence the results as they were asking for call-ins. Unbelievable. You have to work to not have someone trying to blatantly manipulate you these days! Crazy. Thank you - as always - for your comment!


    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 5 years ago from Upstate, New York

      Gerg - This is a masterful display of your humor while discussing one of my pet peeves as well. My opinion? If they perform correctly and produce optimal service the first time around,t here would be no need for the poll.

    • Gerg profile image

      Gerg 5 years ago from California

      Where's the "all of the above" box? That's a survey-taker's best friend! Thanks for succumbing to my trickery, Alan!

      Best, G

    • arb profile image

      arb 5 years ago from oregon

      Hey Greg! My favorite survey is the one I'm about to get sucked into again. Is this funny, interesting, beautiful, awesome or useful? Where is the "this sucked" category? This daily survey lavishes praise on anything writen so that our individual comment box can reap the reciprocal benefit. Its so civil to be nice to everyone, however, I've come to the conclusion that garbage would elicit praise from followers in order to insure the perpetuity of endless praise in return. Problem is, no one can decern authenticity from any comment box anymore. Indiscriminate praise will grow your comment box by leaps and bounds and if you can't write you can wallow in the illusion bestowed by so many adoring followers, who one by one, profess that you are second coming of Steinbeck!

      Having prefaced my genuine admiration for your writing with the inherent problems in the following hub survey, rest assured that I do not compare this to anything remotely reminicent of Steinbeck. It is more Hemingway-ish I think! Glad to have participated in your survey!

      1)Can I count on a reciprocal visit?

      2)Did this comment make you feel warm and fuzzy?

      3)Can I list you as a follower?

    • Gerg profile image

      Gerg 5 years ago from California

      ( ) Obviously a superior intellect. Who thinks on his own, and has gotten the snarky banter I intended spot on! Thanks UnnamedHarald!

      And thanks Dad (aka Jackwms!)

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      I enjoyed your hub very much-- interesting and humorous. It's kind of sad when I realize I've gone from polite and honest to hanging up on political calls, (illegal) marketing calls, surveys, etc. And if I sometimes deign to play along with a "pollster", am I being truthful? Not always anymore. Screw 'em. If you call me and you're political or a business I've never done business with, I may lie. What use is your data then? What law says I have to be honest when one of these calls interrupts me for the sixth time in the evening? Being an independent in Iowa means we get 2 - 4 political calls a night, plus 1 - 2 marketing calls. Hey, thanks for the opportunity to rant. I feel better.

      How would you rate my comment?

      ( ) What a blowhard

      ( ) This guy's dangerous

      ( ) Obviously a superior intellect

      ( ) I wish I'd never written this hub

    • Jackwms profile image

      Jackwms 5 years ago

      I doubt many businesses really pay much attention to the results of these surveys unless the results are way out there. It is overdone.