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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Number, nummer, numero?

82 % of folks will read this post simply because the title contains three different languages.

42% are likely to ask me why the title ends with a question mark.

This morning, The Times of India has a feature story on the front page covering an analysis by a popular online travel booking portal of the time taken by the average user to book a ticket online. Quoting: "The average time by male users is 11.05 minutes, 30 to 40 seconds less than female bookers.... The average booking time for Patna (10.56 m), Hyderabad (10.52 m), beat the average for the big cities."

(Wow! And here I was - thinking Hyderabad had a laidback attitude. Looks like people are pouncing on their mice and cursing the wretched payment gateway/ Visa authentication system in a rat race against folks from other towns to be the fastest to book. Go Deccan!!

The report doesn't say which city starts bookings earliest in the mornings. I can offer 3:1 odds it would be Chennai with peak bookings around 6:18 am. Anyone up for this? Disclaimer: Tickets booked before sunrise will not be considered booked in the morning. )

The second page has statistics compiled by the Hyderabad police.Quoting again: "A two-wheeler is stolen every fourth hour in Hyderabad. A car is stolen every second day."

(OMG!! My car hasn't been stolen since I purchased it from this dude, second-hand. Gimme a min here, I gotta go downstairs and check something....

[(background) Drilling, hammer pounding on wood. Random construction noises]

It's OK, It's OK -- it's right where I left it. Whew!!

Unless.....could it be.... stolen.... all this while? Hmmm.....)

Why do people like statistics so much? Especially trivia like this.There exists a special breed of people who literally eat this stuff up for breakfast (Ok, not literally literally) and throw it out in random conversations when you least expect it. I reserve a special facial expression for people who revel in this sort of stuff ( for the interested, it is composed of 43% apathy, 31% bemusement and 36% je ne sais quoi)

(Don't tell me the numbers don't add up. I know that. That is the point. And if you weren't gonna tell me that, then you need to read more carefully. God! *exasperated sigh*)

Is it something that was always deeply ingrained in the human psyche? Or is it a cultural legacy inherited from the European heartland and strewed around the world amidst intense wars of imperialism and conquest? Or is statisticophilia a key component of social organization, hierarchy and civilization?

Do people feel a sense of identification with a random statistic? Is a sense of order imparted, a feeling that it's all not just God throwing dice around? Or is it a feeling of amusement and entertainment that people derive, the engagement of the sardonic senses in discovering that people actually research this crap.

What would result if using statistics goes out plumb out of fashion one day? Would conversations go something like this?

A: I really wonder what is the average percentage of times people cut a red light in proportion to whether  rock music is playing in their cars at the time. Haven't you ever wondered this?

B: (to A)
B: (whispers to C): You do have the number of the nearest asylum, right? It's almost time...

Do people believe that knowing a statistic could enrich their knowledge, impart perspective, diversify their plane of thought, derive more meaningful lives, drive their decisions, fuel the motor of the world, keep business and life ticking, bring relation and insight, help build a smarter planet?

12% of folks reading this might try and provide answers to these questions I pose.

20% of my friends are trying frantically to reach a guy who has the number of the local asylum.

100% of them don't have the number themselves, despite knowing me. Talk about unpreparedness!


  1. It's an elaborate conspiracy by aliens (or white mice) to make people pursue increasingly futile questions while they take over the earth :)

    That's the only thing that will explain why
    this TED talk is so damn persuasive

    And why the renowned Economist magazine thinks
    this is worth mentioning.

    PS : Liked the post :)

  2. Thanks a mil! Ya I never liked the white mice. Too calculating. Maybe you're right. We have to fight this. I now solemnly resolve to make the world more insane one day at a time.

    Loved some of your posts as well. :)