Demographic tests show that the person least likely to buy Wired magazine is an American schoolteacher
Before I begin speaking let me say something. The above is a quote, and what follows is a story of the evolution of my perception of its intended and conveyed meaning. (I have other examples of misuse and misconceptions of statistical facts.)
As a frame of reference, at the time I came across the "Demographic test..." quote I had no notion of the existence of Wired magazine. I am not a schoolteacher, hence, by no means, an American Schoolteacher. Therefore, I do not fall under the statistics of the quote. All the more natural, I would say, given the state of the american education and what everyone thinks of it, that I felt a glee at the expense of the hapless teacher who got yet another public kick at the low back parts.
So I went around telling everyone of a newly discovered statistical truth when I suddenly realized that I was no subscriber either. Nor had I plans to subscribe to any magazine, Wired in particular, for a simple reason of getting more information than I was able to digest in a variety of other ways. When a few days later a colleague of mine brought me a copy of the magazine, I began doubting whether my original reaction was in fact unbecoming of the kind of fellow I think I am. As everyone knows, there is no point in discussing one's tastes, but a magazine where one can't tell an editorial from an advertisement is not to my liking.
Thus, after getting acquainted with the magazine, I began having second thoughts. For all I knew, this American Schoolteacher might prove to be a smart fellow, after all. It's funny I would have doubts about this. Read the quote one more time. Does it say anything negative about the teacher? Perhaps, the author came to the same conclusion that an unworthy magazine as Wired appears to be, the American Schoolteacher is, on average, i.e. statistically, the smartest representative of the society in that he wouldn't get hyped into buying this magazine?
Now, where had I fished the quote from?. Once during lunchtime, the colleague who later brought me a copy of Wired, showed me a book Rise & Resurrection of the American Programmer by Edward Yourdon. (Now you probably have guessed about at least one of my numerous sources of information I mentioned earlier.) Being an educated programmer, I couldn't help knowing the name of Edward Yourdon. Yourdon is a foremost expert on the structured programming that served as a precursor of the current universally accepted object-oriented paradigm. Without ever meeting him, I was somewhat cross with Yourdon because of his previous book Decline & Fall of the American Programmer that appeared a few years back (1992 if the memory serves well.) I am a true believer in the advantages of the capitalist system of which the United States is the finest representative. Give people a chance and they'll make it - this is what I strongly believe in. Thus all kinds of doomsayers do not fare well with me regardless of the topic, not to mention the offense I felt when the book predicted my own decline and fall. (In fairness to Yourdon, the book also suggested ways to get out of the perceived danger. Regardless.)
Still, during that memorable lunchtime I peeked into the new book. Sure enough the tone was very positive and optimistic, and I surfed through the book relaxedly. Author of dozens of books, Yourdon was never too late to pick up a trend. Of course, there was a chapter devoted to Internet. Finally, this is where I was struck by the quote. This is when I first felt the mirth at having somebody else being kicked for the cause I can commiserate with. The quote preceded a chapter on Internet! The epigraph has been plucked from Paul Kegan, "The Digerati", New York Times Magazine, May 21 1995. (An aside: it's not a promotion. I recapitulate what I said before: I neither read nor miss reading either Wired, New York Times Magazine, or either of the Yourdon's books. I am just telling my true to life story.)
I am nearing the end. Yourdon's context for the quote was undoubtedly negative. The trend is towards the global information highway, whereas the backward american teacher is the least likely person to follow the leaders. Yourdon is surely entitled to his opinions. My first reaction was negative even before I read the first sentence from the chapter. In hind sight, this was stupid. Inherently, there is nothing in this statistical truth, absolutely nothing, neither pro nor contra american teachers. This was one of the grossly misplaced quotations I ever have come across. To me this was a conspicuous misuse of otherwise useful discipline of statistics. I am sorry to say that I took the bait. I may have an excuse for not having a very favorable opinion of the American Schoolteachers. (I have a plan to narrate a story of an extremely senseless homework assignment my son got when in an honors Geometry I class. I talked to his teacher, the principal who admitted the assignment was shallow, to the district's Math Supervisor, all to no avail. I have difficulty describing the disappointment I felt at the time. The boy wasted a few hours on a silliest, stupidest, mathematically irrelevant activity just because somebody did not care to prepare anything better.) Be this as it may, the quote struck a raw chord in my mind. With this lame excuse I offer my apology to the American Schoolteacher. We may have disagreements on whats, hows, whens and whys of education, but I should not have fallen for a cheap opportunity to justify my position.
What I am curious about is to collect information as to the people's perception of what, if anything, is conveyed by the quote. Do we hear what we prefer to hear? How much do our prejudices influence our perceptions? So I ask any one who stumbled into this page and read it this far to answer a couple of questions by clicking on buttons and submitting the form.
I am occasionally getting responses to this page that may be of interest to other visitors.