This one’s a little old (over 2 years to be slightly precise), but I’ve been sitting on it for a while, intending to comment on how cool, and interesting, it really is.
Gallup, you know, that group responsible for somewhere around every poll ever conducted, spent 3 years calling random people across the country and asked them a whole bunch of questions that basically amounted to “How happy are you?”
Based on all of the information they compiled, they were able to develop a rather complete profile of a person whom would be, statistically speaking, the happiest man in the nation. As you can see from the linked article, they had this down to his age, area of residence, and even religion.
And. . . as it would so happen, this person actually existed!
A call to the man resulted in a rather expected conversation in which he basically said “Yeah, I’m pretty happy, I guess” (or something like that).
But the thing here is that based purely on collected data over a period of time, Gallup was basically able to objectify happiness. Looking at recent information exposed regarding larger retail chains, it would appear that there are many things that can be objectified that we would normally consider outside of the realm of such determinations. Companies like Target have hired teams of experts to review how best to market to people using purchases people make in order to determine what other sorts of things these folks may be interested in purchasing as well. They’ve gone so far as to use common purchases made by expectant mothers to be able to determine that they are pregnant before the rest of the world knows and market heavily to them regarding all of their upcoming needs. Things like pre-natal vitamins, maternity clothing, and even stuffed animals can cause companies like Target to realize that you’re about to welcome a child into the world, and therefore cause you to begin receiving non-stop offers to ensure you continue to purchase items from their store.
But here’s the thing. . . our behavior as a people is now so darned typical that retail establishments can actually figure out that we’re pregnant before we even tell our families. We have all merely become a group of statistics that follow a basic path depending on what circumstances we have found ourselves in.
In fact, many folks are using this type of information to state that we, as humans, have absolutely no free will and are, in actuality merely operating in a sort of instinctual way to everything that occurs around us.
As a writer, as well as an observer of man, I find this to be a fairly sad state of affairs. I’m sure that if you were to dig deep enough into the details, you could probably come up with basic reasons to believe that people will react in very specific ways given specific circumstances. . . but even if that were true, it seems to me that there’s much more excitement to be had around all of it. The idea of the Butterfly Effect, where something as small as the flap of the wings of a butterfly can cause drastic weather changes on the entire other side of the globe is something that I think can’t be ignored. Unless we were to collect all of the data for everything possible, meaning, unless we have enough data to predict not only the actions of every person on the globe, all the weather to come for forever, all the movements of animals, blah blah blah, there’s still a great deal of possibility for the unexpected.
So, although Target may know that Mrs. Doe is pregnant, they may not know that she was hit by a car and miscarried. That means that the tons of mailers they send her for offers on diapers may have an entirely different effect on her. Each mailer could remind her of the lost child and make it more difficult for her to want to return.
The unexpected is where the fun of life exists. It’s where the risks exists. And it’s where the writer needs to live (at least mentally). When creating worlds, the writer needs to work within the realms of things that wouldn’t be predictable. We don’t want the predictable (as readers) we want to be surprised and entertained. . . things that don’t happen if we know what’s to come.
So, although Alvin may have ended up being the happiest man in America per the Gallup poll. . . what about what may have happened the following day?
I love reading about this type of stuff, but I think it’s too easy to take these items in a rather defeatist way. I mean, based on Gallup’s reporting, it would be pretty darn difficult for me to be the happiest man in America. Heck, out of all of the items they list as things that make for the happy man, I only have two to my name. But I don’t take that to mean that happiness it outside of my grasp. In fact, most days I consider myself a relatively happy guy.
The world is constantly trying to bring us down to being nothing more than a number (not quite 1984-style, but who knows). I refuse to be a number. I am me, no matter what Target or Gallup thinks being me boils down to.
Anyways. . .that’s my random rant for the day. Have a good one!