Saturday, September 19, 2009

Once Every Minute

There's a TV commercial I've seen that asserts that every 60 seconds, somebody somewhere buys a Tempurpedic "sleep system." In case you're wondering, a "sleep system" appears to consist of nothing more than a mattress and some sort of frame to rest it on. If you're like most people, you're probably more comfortable referring to this mattress and frame combination as a "bed."

Actually, that's not quite true. While most speakers of the English language would be more comfortable with the term "bed," most French speakers would be more likely to use the term "lit" and most Spanish-speaking people would undoubtedly prefer the term "cama." But even if we accept that many people on this planet do not speak English, we can still maintain that a "sleep system" sounds like it should be more expensive than a "bed" -- a point I'm sure has not escaped the attention of the Tempurpedic marketing department.

Anyway, believe it or not, that's not really what I wanted to write about. You can argue all day about why it should be called a bed or a sleeping system, but at some point you're just splitting hairs. And there's no real point to splitting hairs all day, since all you end up with is a day's worth of split hair.

What I really wanted to address is the claim that someone buys a Tempurpedic bed every minute. I don't care if it's true or not -- that isn't even the point -- but whenever I hear something like this, the first question that comes to my mind is, "So what?" What's the point of this statistical tidbit? Is the idea that I should buy a certain type of bed just because so many other people have bought one? That's probably one of the worst reasons to do anything. If you're considering doing something just so you can go along with the crowd, maybe you should first consider that crowds generally include a lot of stupid people, and doing something just because a lot of stupid people do it is probably not in your best interests. Not only is it not a good thing for smart people to do -- it isn't even a good thing for stupid people to do.

So blindly following the masses is rarely a good idea, but in this case, it turns out that the masses aren't actually buying that many Tempurpedic beds in the first place. Let's do some arithmetic. If someone buys a Tempurpedic bed every 60 seconds, that means that 1,440 people buy one every day, that 10,080 people buy one every week, and that 524,160 Tempurpedic beds are sold every year. That may sound like a lot, but I'm willing to bet that millions and millions of mattresses are sold every year, which means that most of them are not Tempurpedics.

Since Tempurpedic beds constitute a minority of the beds sold every year, if we wanted to just follow the crowd and buy whatever everyone else is buying, we should probably buy something else. Maybe we should buy a bed we feel comfortable lying on, for example. Or maybe we should buy an environmentally-friendly natural latex mattress. In other words, we should buy a bed based on our own personal criteria. And by the way, despite what I said a little while ago, I'm not actually willing to bet on anything having to do with the sales of different types of mattresses. So let's move on.

I read another interesting little statistic lately, namely that every 40 seconds, somebody on the planet commits suicide. That comes to 2,160 suicides per day (as opposed to only 1,440 people who buy a Tempurpedic bed). So the first conclusion we might jump to is that every year, more people will commit suicide than will buy Tempurpedic beds. That's true as far as it goes, but it doesn't tell the whole story.

First of all, the people who commit suicide and the people who buy Tempurpedic beds may not be mutually exclusive. So it's theoretically possible that everyone who bought a Tempurpedic bed committed suicide in the same year. It's also possible that someone bought a Tempurpedic bed and for whatever reason, it drove him to commit suicide. Having never slept on one, I can't speculate about how this might happen, but we still can't rule out the possibility. Or maybe the guy bought a Tempurpedic bed and later killed himself for some completely different reason. Maybe he was distraught at the prospect of losing his job, maybe his wife just left him, or maybe he had suicidal tendencies that were exacerbated by the daily use of certain anti-depressants. Or maybe got in a car accident and the resulting chronic pain he suffered from couldn't be ameliorated by spending his days lying in bed.

On the other hand, if there's no overlap between the people who commit suicide and the people who buy Tempurpedic beds, we might be tempted to believe that a lot of people would rather commit suicide than buy a Tempurpedic bed. We'd probably be wrong of course, since we're implying that there's some sort of causal relationship between the two activities. But we can't even conclude that committing suicide is simply more popular than buying a Tempurpedic bed. For one thing, a lot of people who commit suicide have probably never even heard of a Tempurpedic bed. We should also bear in mind that many suicides are committed by people who don't have a lot of money -- people for whom buying a Tempurpedic bed was never a viable option to begin with. So we're sort of creating a false choice (but interestingly, perhaps, not a false dichotomy).

And that's pretty much all I have to say on the matter. I'm probably not telling you anything you don't already know -- the only thing you probably don't already know is why I'm telling you this. Well, I don't know either, but even if I did, I wouldn't waste your time trying to explain it. So let's just wrap things up by saying that for reasons I won't go into, I have no plans to commit suicide or buy a Tempurpedic bed.

Still, there are probably a lot of people who commit suicide (through asphyxiation, drug overdose, a bullet to the head, or whatever) while lying in a Tempurpedic bed. I wonder what the statistics on that are. Or actually, no I don't.