Thursday, October 21, 2010

There is no average person

Seth Godin rants in a recent post entitled 'Deliberately uninformed, relentlessly so' about those people who choose to get their opinions from shallow TV shows rather than taking the effort to read the news, or informative (and formational) non-fiction books.

It's possible Seth was having one of his rare bad hair days (quite an achievement for him), particularly when he goes on to say: Hal Varian at Google reports that the average person online spends seventy seconds a day reading online news. Ouch.

I'm guessing that he's quoting the following sentences from a piece Varian wrote back in March this year where he says: However, visitors to online newspaper sites don't spend a lot of time there. The average amount of time looking at online news is about 70 seconds a day, while the average amount of time spent reading the physical newspaper is about 25 minutes a day.

It's a bit of a surprise to see Seth talking about the 'average person.' As he's pointed out on more than one occasion (and I'm working from memory here, so I can't link to a specific blog post), there is no average person. [My italics, incidentally.]

The people who read online news don't equally spend 70 seconds each day. It does seem to indicate that a large number of them spend a small amount of time reading the news online, but we don't know, since we have no indication of how large a number of people this is altogether, or where this statistic comes from. Nevertheless, in order to get that average figure we would have to have a number of people who read the news online for a good number of minutes, maybe more than those who 'on average' read the newspaper for 25 minutes a day, as well as having a good number of people who read the online news for less than 70 seconds a day.

But we just don't know: 'Mr or Ms Average 70 secs' is a non-existent person, and should never be invited to anyone's party, not Seth's, nor Hal Varian's - not even mine.
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