What happens when the feedback we get from the world around us is false or changing? If we look into the sky and see it is blue we can be fairly confident that it is not going to rain in the next little while. If we are driving and see a sign saying our destination is 100km away we have a rough idea how long it will take to get there and also to judge our fuel needs. But what if the destination was 200km away? We would be acting on false information and the decisions we make could end up being wrong.
So where am I going with this?
Misleading information makes it harder to plan and do what we need to do as we are responding to something that is not actually real.
There was an interesting leader in the Economist a few weeks back about “The perils of panflation”. Apart from being an odd word the thrust of the article was fascinating as it looked at the devaluation of terms and descriptions that we use to identify products that we use.
For instance it spoke of how five star used to be the pinnacle of luxury but that there was now six and seven star. How hotels no longer have standard rooms with “deluxe” being the new standard room and rising through super deluxe, luxury, super luxury and so on. Airlines no longer refer to economy class but have an assortment of flasher names.
My packet of cat biscuits guarantees 110% satisfaction (mine or the cats?) or my money back. Whatever happened to 100% being the maximum?
In business firms are overflowing with vice presidents and directors. The title of receptionist is replaced with Director of First Impressions. Apart from anything else it makes it harder to know what the job entails!
Some of this could be dismissed as harmless marketing and playing with words. However words are what we use to communicate and need to have meaning. If a standard room is now labeled as deluxe I need to know what the term deluxe now means as it is probably not what I thought.
There were two more serious examples quoted by the Economist though. The first relates to education. In the UK the number of students getting” A” grades has gone from 9% to 27% in the last 25 years. In the USA the number of University students getting the top grade had gone from 15% in 1960 to 45% today. Apparently an “A” today is the equivalent of a “C” in the 1980’s.
There is nothing to suggest that overall intelligence has gone up two levels in one generation. The value of a top mark has been devalued which actually penalizes those who do best.
Health was affected too – in surprising ways, According to The Economist the average pair of women’s size 14 pants was four inches bigger today than in 1975 Today’s size 14 is what used to be a 18 and a size 10 is what used to be a 14. The same trend was happening in other countries too. Fashion makers have correctly identified that women prefer to buy smaller sizes.
However for those who want to be healthy isn’t dress size a useful guide to what is happening in your body? If you used to be a size 14 and are still a size 14 but the garment is bigger this is actually deceiving you by providing misleading information. You might feel good in the short term but you have been fooled.
On the flip size the descriptions of food servings have lost meaning too. Small no longer exists, having morphed into regular. Regular is now large and large is “super size”. We might think this represents value but do we want a large pizza when we really only need a small one? Once again this muddying of the meanings of words makes it harder for us to make decisions, which actually support us in our quest to be healthy.
So with food servings getting bigger and clothes getting” smaller” we enter a world of make believe. Imagine you wanted to lose 10kg. You start at 85kg and your aim is 75kg. Suppose someone changes your scales to weigh 5kg lighter. When you reach 80kg the scales show 75kg. You are being told you have reached target but in fact you have not. This deceives you. In turn you may be put off continuing on your path believing the false information. It feels good initially but is not real. To achieve what we want in life we need honest information not just stuff we want to hear!
Political correctness has sought to neutralize the meaning of words so that nobody can take offence to anything that is said. A spade is no longer a spade.
When the same problem starts to affect numbers we are in serious trouble.