Friday, August 08, 2008

August CommQuote

This month's quote comes from a 2005 episode of Chicago Public Radio's This American Life (great radio) that was rebroadcast last month. The first segment, "When Small Thoughts Meet Big Brains," is about things you find out about embarrassingly late in life, such as, that Nielsen families are not all named Nielsen. Other examples in the piece are equally stunning but our CommQuote hones in on this matter of Nielsen families as logically misunderstood by the narrator until the age of 34.

“…I can reconstruct the events that led me to one of the most embarrassing conversations of my adult life. The chain starts back when I was 11 or 12 and I first heard the term Nielsen Family. I was probably listening to some adults talk, and from that conversation I gathered that networks consulted Nielsen Families to find out how popular a television show was. But that didn’t make sense; why would they only ask people named Nielsen which shows they liked? Started thinking…I knew that when they figured things like this out they didn’t ask everybody, they just asked a small percentage of people and then extrapolated. I think I figured they’d done some research and found that the name Nielsen, because it was a common name, maybe, and seemed to cut across class and economic lines, actually came pretty close to a representative sample. I knew this wasn’t the way they measured public opinion now, but it seemed that the Nielsen surveys had been around for a while and I figured they were just a holdover from a more primitive, less statistically rigorous time. After that, I really didn’t think about it again or of I did, it was only with a mild curiosity: I wonder why TV still does it that way? Fast forward 20 years. I was talking with a friend of mine who was telling me about her friend who had been selected to be a Nielsen family. And I said to her: "isn’t it weird that they’re all named Nielsen?" My friend looked at me for what seemed like a very long time. Somewhere during her very long pause, because of the very long pause in fact, I realized: ‘of course they’re not all named Nielsen! That makes no sense at all.’ At the time of this conversation, I was 34 yrs old. And I couldn’t believe I had gotten this far without ever stopping to think it through. I wondered what else I’d missed.”

--Alex Blumberg
This American Life, Episode 293 (A Little Bit of Knowledge)


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