Saturday, November 27, 2004

being sixteen

I know nothing about how random polling works, but companies such as gallup, mori, and ICM have been around long enough for them to have worked out some fairly accurate systems, I would have thought. although, having once been corrected by a scientist for confusing 'accuracy' with 'precision', I'm not sure that we should regard even their results as anything more than a slightly better than guesswork indicator of what they purport to represent.
today's guardian's poll of sixteen-year-olds attitudes to life death and the universe is clearly more weekend supplement entertainment than science, but none the worse for that.
I wonder how random is random in such a survey. I'm quite sure that the responses to some of these questions would vary in the same person according to the circumstances in which they were put - depending on whether the questioner was male or female, on their age, on their colour, on their accent, their demeanor, their smell, the sound of their voice, their hairstyle, clothing, height, weight - on that myriad of intangibles that determine whether or not we choose to confide in someone with a clipboard whom we've only just met coming out of the virgin record store. fairly certainly, the same set of questions put to a sixteen-year-old girl by a forty-year-old bearded white man in a suit with an Oxbridge accent would trigger a different set of answers than if the questioner looked and sounded like Konni from Blue Peter, particularly if, as these questions did, they were intended to reveal some intimate details about her lifestyle.
having said that, however, this poll is tremendously reassuring - confirmatory, yet again, of the fairly widely-held belief (in itself reassuring) that the world would be far better run by sixteen-year-olds than the sorry bunch that are actually doing it.
what happens to it - all that youthful sense of fair play and responsibility, that ability to discriminate - so early - between what is obviously right and what is obviously wrong? how possible would it be for us jaded, compromised grownups to revert to factory settings and recognise the hopeless futility in our continuing to behave as if this were the only way because it was ever thus and nothing ever changes? every generation, it seems, arrives eventually at this point where they are able to see the world for what it is, and becomes determined to improve it, to take it by the scruff of the neck and shake some sense into it. and then something happens, and it all evaporates.

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