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Garbage collection, the literal sense

By  Aug 26, 2007

Topics: Programming, C/C++

Garbage samples excavated from landfills consistently betray a lifestyle that's quite different from what people report. This discrepancy may be the solution to a mystery that has puzzled me for years, namely the contrast between the idyllic life portrayed in polls as opposed to the not-so-rosy reality.

A program on the National Geographic channel introduced me to a new field of social sciences: garbology. A garbologist is a garbage collector, but in the literal sense, i.e., a person who excavates landfills and studies our culture and society according to garbage we produce. In that program, the excavated garbage samples consistently betrayed a lifestyle that is quite different from what people report -- they consume more junk food than they are willing to admit; they also smoke and drink alcohol more than they claim they do. 

These findings led me to reflect on a bigger puzzle: how could it be that polls and surveys often portray a certain idealistic image, behavior pattern etc., when my intuition, life experience and acquaintance with people suggests otherwise. Take for example gym subscriptions. While many people have a subscription, few of them actually train regularly. With respect to personal hygiene, whenever I take a bus or train to work, I wonder where the people who shower three times a day are hiding. They certainly never take my bus/train (this experience has been witnessed in every corner of the world, mind you)! Perhaps they're too busy to ever leave their homes…

It seems that people act in polls rather than report the whole, unembellished truth. This "creativity" isn't restricted to polls, though. Your colleague's salary might not be as high as she reports; if your best friend's incessant bragging about his romantic conquests sounds too good to be true, they might as well be sheer fabrication, and when Sun reports that there are dozens of millions of Java programmers worldwide, you can consider their reports as reliable as your best friend's conquest fables...

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