All that I survey ...
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?
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?
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 www.businessinsider.com).
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.