May I Have a Few Minutes of Your Time?

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  • There are lies, damned lies and statistics. ~ Mark Twain
  • There are two kinds of statistics, the kind you look up and the kind you make up. ~ Rex Stout
  • Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination. ~ Vin Scully
  • There’s a sucker born every minute. ~ Unknown (incorrectly attributed to P. T. Barnum)

If you are a marketing genius, here is some feedback for you… no charge for this and you don’t have to work for it: I hang up on telemarketers and robocalls. I also know many other people who do the same. I know, I know… this is anecdotal evidence since one or a few people is not enough to form a statistically correct sample size, but the logic of these practices totally escapes me. Maybe you have some market data that says that intrusion on people’s private time is worth the effort, but I’m sure that your data did not include opinions from people like me. Outside of the faux charitable lure, the most prominent ruse seems to be the “I’m conducting a survey… “ which is usually followed by an attempt to peel my onion layer by layer back to my wallet. Legitimate surveys don’t have a chance to be accurate if all such approaches are met with cynicism.

I saw a flurry of my Millennial social media friends racing toward completing a survey on “How Millennial Are You” and then proudly displaying that they were in fact statistically Millennial. I checked the background of this survey and found that it was an outward facing marketing tool of Pew Research Center which is actually a very reputable non-partisan research organization. I also found a quote by Greg Gutfield about Pew: “…a word my mother would often use when she did my laundry.” So, I took the bait and applied my Boomer generation brain to honestly completing the questionnaire. Interestingly, I found that I am really thinking like GenX. To believe this data, I take it to mean that I have succeeded in relating to my kids but have not totally sacrificed all of my values. Did anyone else drill down to the 3-year old poll that was used in this survey? A Portrait of Five Generations is a very revealing look into how generations match-up, but backing off to the Google Earth perspective it is only a representation of the opinions of poll respondents. It is not a scientific gathering of finite data points but a statistical sampling of how people think.

The danger of any poll is that results will be taken out of context and be interpreted to mean something more absolute than is possible. Data is easier to analyze if the results are placed into convenient buckets, so the decision to choose certain categories are already a selection criteria for skewing the results. How much of the generational difference is attributable to some distinct evolutionary change in society and how much is only a factor of now… this time in this place. Will Millennials respond to a similar survey with the same thinking 20 years from now? The benefit of hindsight in my Boomerosity is that I can state factually that I am not the person I was 20 years ago. My fear is that we are damaging generational interrelationships by allowing such surveys to become a self fulfilling prophesy. Once you believe the myth it is more difficult to escape back to reality. Is scoring high on Millenniosity something a Millennial should be proud of? Or is it a display of unconscious acceptance of the myth by conforming to expected behaviors.

My generation did not invent non-conformity, but we were seen as free-love flower children singing folk songs against the establishment… until we had kids and decided to take them to church for grounding.


Image credit: paperboat / 123RF Stock Photo