Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Search for "Average"

The Average American describes Kevin O'Keefe's search to understand, well, the average American. Starting with census bureau data and spending months interviewing people around the country, O'Keefe arrived at a list of 140 criteria and began his search for a single person meeting those criteria. In addition to his factual search, this is a spiritual quest for O'Keefe. He counts himself among many who have consciously avoided any tendency toward average.
"Whenever I had a choice between settling or struggling, I chose B. A, of course, stood for average."
Sound familiar? Turns out there's another whole set of people who view average as ideal. The thinking goes as follows: the reason certain traits become so common is that they work. The more of such traits that an individual accumulates, the more successful his/she is likely to be.

It's a fun trip as O'Keefe uncovers one criterion after another and he (and I) can't help comparing ourselves to the hypothetical average person: I live in the state where I was born; have lived in the same house for more than five years; am a high school graduate; believe in God - oops, no. I have a car, but no garage, I wear my seat belt and have a pet, but I don't live with "two to four people." And so it goes.

I may buy a copy of this book 'cause I think in twenty years it will be comical to look at things we now consider normal, or at least average: eats at MacDonalds and shops at WalMart at least once a year; lives within 100 miles of the ocean. Hmmm... Has a porch or deck and a grill; eats meat and ice cream; has a kitchen, at least one bathroom, a washer, a dryer and a dishwasher; showers and brushes teeth daily.

O'Keefe begins with a Norman Rockwell quote:
"Commonplace never became tiresome. It is we who become tired when we cease to be curious and appreciative. It is not a new scene which is needed, but a new viewpoint."
Spoiler follows. O'Keefe is disappointed and edified when his quest leads to his hometown and a person he'd known in high school.

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