Reminder: Lake Wobegon is Fictional

Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average

You are likely special and your friends probably not normal

What are the odds of being normal?

I think a better word here would be typical in the way that Bee is using it, but that really doesn’t change the thrust of the discussion. The really short version is that if the typical family has 2.3 children, then nobody is typical.

It’s interesting, I think, this mix of “I’m average” is some ways of thinking and “I’m above average” in others, and the Wikipedia article included in the link does (as I expected) discuss the Dunning-Kruger effect as part of overestimating our abilities. Though I expect that works in reverse, too: people thinking they are typical in some way when they aren’t, like that guy who ran for president last year (Mitch Rumbly?) who tried to portray himself as a regular guy and failing pretty miserably. (But that’s politics, so we don’t know how much of that is pretend)

However, this is something that I have thought about and never formed it into a blog post, but (as so often happens) now that I have a catalyst I will make a few comments. Or just ramble.

Not only do we think of ourselves as average or typical in many respects, I think we view experiences as being typical as well. Consider buying some widget or gizmo, as a first-time customer of ACME, and finding that it has some flaw. It doesn’t really matter if ACME has 99.99% positive quality control on their gizmos, and you were just unlucky enough to get that 10,000th unit off the line that’s faulty — there’s a decent chance you’ll just say that ACME sucks, thinking that this happens to everyone. Same thing for getting poor treatment at customer service. It doesn’t matter to you that you’re unlikely to be treated poorly if a second chance came up, because you won’t give the company that chance. (and I’m guessing there’s some neuroscience description of all this I know nothing about, because I’m a physicist and not a neuroscientist.)

The bottom line is we’re bad at assessing probability and risk for unusual events because see them as being more typical than they really are. It’s also something that many (or at least some) companies realize, so they work hard at not losing you with a first-time bad experience, or giving you a common experience that’s better than their competitors (like with customer service, or when visiting a restaurant, etc), and also fed by the news, which reports unusual events but not mundane ones.

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