Archived Story

Consumer surveys are almost ubiquitious

Published 12:40pm Sunday, April 7, 2013

Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster

I am suspicious of a world that cares too much about my opinion. The recent deluge of surveys I’ve been asked to participate in leaves me wondering: Why me? Why you? Why any of us?

It seems every experience, from the meaningful to the mundane, requires us to answer a series of questions that will measure our satisfaction. Those findings are weighed against the satisfaction of others who’ve shared a similar experience. Formulas are applied; conclusions are drawn, and it all ends up in a PowerPoint presentation that no one really wants to see.

They are thrust at me in restaurants and hair salons. They arrive in the mail, online and at the checkout counter.

“Do you have five minutes to answer some questions about your recent purchase?” a pleasant sounding voice asks me over the phone.

I want to say, “If I had an extra five minutes I’d be in the bathroom reading the Vanity Fair magazines that have piled up over the past year. Do you know how many pull-out perfume samples are fermenting from neglect? Do you realize how much I don’t know about the latest peccadilloes of the obscurely royal because I don’t have time to read the 20-page articles?” but I don’t.

Every time I go to a doctor of any kind, I get a survey in the mail about a week later. A week later is not when I want my doctors to care about what I think. Besides, why are they asking me how they can serve me better? They went to medical school. I was an English major. Did the rocket scientist ask the kid making a paper airplane how to land on the moon? No, he asked Stanley Kubrick.

Most surveys I receive from doctors’ offices are concerned with bedside manner, which concerns me not at all. If she can make it through a game of Operation without somebody yelling, “Butterfingers!” then that MD is A-OK by me.

The best doctor I ever met in my life had the personality of a bad rash, but I respect him immensely, and my dad is alive today because of him. I didn’t care how nice he was, and he didn’t care how nice he was, and, big surprise, he never sent us a survey.

When did we become such an approval-seeking society? When did every single dinner, service, retail transaction and all manner of personal engagement necessitate a judgment, a verdict and a rating? When is a haircut just a haircut, a cheeseburger just a cheeseburger, and an oil change just an oil change? Why must every facet of our lives be whittled into the equivalent of a smiley or sad-face icon? Is there any real value or purpose to all this asking and answering?

When I was growing up, my dad kept two framed quotations on his desk. One was from “The Grand Inquisitor” parable from “The Brothers Karamazov” that I still don’t understand. I think it’s about God and socialism and possibly guys dancing in really tall boots. The second is out of Thorstien Veblen’s “Theory of the Leisure Class.” I never really got that one either until I found myself in this, the Age of the Survey.

Now, with the forests of paper and the thousands upon thousands of work hours that go into asking people whether their average daily experiences make them feel good, bad or indifferent, I think I finally understand what Veblen was going on about in 1899 when he wrote:

“Many and intricate polite observances and social duties of a ceremonial nature are developed; many organizations are founded, with some specious object of amelioration … there is much coming and going, and a deal of talk, to the end that the talkers may not have occasion to reflect on the … value of their traffic.”

Yeah, what he said.

In the last week I’ve been asked to fill out a total of 11 surveys. I don’t have time to complete them all, so I’ve decided that I will scratch theirs if they scratch mine. And mine looks like this:

1. Are you now or have you ever been a member of the communist party?

2. When was the last time you were tempted to sink my battleship, squeeze the Charmin, or have Calgon take you away?

3. What did you know and when did you know it?

4. How’s my driving?

5. Do you want to spin or buy a vowel?

6. Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?

7. Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

8. Which is better, NFL overtime rules or college football overtime rules, and why? Please answer in a classic five-paragraph essay.

9. Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?

10. Do these jeans make me look fat?

Quid pro quo Gap, Best Buy, Home Depot, and the androgynously voiced person who called last night. Quid pro quo.

 

Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at alikloster@yahoo.com, and her blog is at alexandrakloster.com.