Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Of donuts and data

You know those annoying phone calls everyone gets from time to time…the phone rings, you pick it up, and there’s a second or two of silence. You know that the person on the other end is not a friend. He or she is a telemarketer, wants to sell you something or is working for a market research company.

I get a couple of these calls a week. Unlike many of my friends I neither hang up on the caller nor do I verbally abuse them.

I used to work the phones in a market research company. It was the only job I could find when I first arrived in Vancouver 14 years ago. It was miserable. I empathize with the people making minimum wage, hating what they’re doing and not caring a whit about what they’re trying to sell or the research data they’re gathering.

“Hello M’am. How are you tonight?”

First thought in my head was, “I feel like shit. I was dealing with lawyers today, trying to settle assets with an ex who doesn’t want to settle assets.” I said, “fine, thank you.”

“Do you have 9 minutes to participate in a research study?”

“Depends. What’s it about?” I refuse to participate in market research about food or cars or financial institutions.

“Important issues, M’am.”

Well, that’s clear enough. “Sure,” I said.

“What’s the most important issue facing Canadians today?’

First thought in my head was healthcare. But I didn’t want to say healthcare. Everyone says healthcare. It’s the issue we’re told is the most important by new media, day after day. I don’t believe healthcare is the most important issue, even though it was top of mind. I thought for a couple of seconds, “the privatization of public resources.”

First five minutes of the survey focused on the federal government: would I vote for the Bloc? The Conservatives? The Greens? The NDP? The Liberals?

In that order. Isn’t that odd?

And then two questions about the leadership potential and credibility of 10-12 politicians, starting with Belinda Stronach and including Ken Dryden, Bob Rae, what’s-her-name-Liberal-who-quit–when-she-lost-the-leadership-race, and a handful of folks I didn’t know enough about to judge.

From there: questions about health care. A-ha! Further proof that health care is the most important issue facing Canadians today.

“M’am, do you think that doctors make prescribing decisions based on a) ensuring the best care for their patients, b) controlling health care costs or c) their salaries?”

I hate multiple choice questions that limit my answering ability. What about option d) which pharma rep was last visiting their office with a box of Krispy Kreme donuts and tickets to the Canucks? Or option e) the drug they saw advertised on TV while watching the Seahawks get their butts kicked?

Then the same question about federal government bureaucrats and provincial governments. Then a new set:

“How important are bureaucrats in determining which prescription drugs Canadians take?”

I said, “I don’t understand the question. Is that how important are they or should they be?”

“It’s your opinion M’am.”

I still didn’t understand but answered a whole series of this same question: how important are doctors, nurses, provincial governments, pharmacists, the patient in determining which prescription drugs Canadians take?”

Then some questions about some new federal prescription drug initiative that is supposed to address the disparities between the drugs available to people who have private health care insurance and those who are on provincial plans and those who pay out of pocket.

One question asked if I believed people with private health insurance should get access to more drugs than people who are on provincial plans. What the? Of course not!

I got through the survey and was asked the demographic info: my age, household income, and then my postal code.

I wanted to lie. I thought about it. But I couldn’t remember the postal code for the fancy part of Vancouver. I live in the postal area that had the highest “no” vote in the Olympics referendum. The same postal area that voted NPD provincially when all but two seats went to the Gordon Campbell Liberals. The postal area that is arguably the most progressive in BC.

I’m certain I heard the interviewer’s computer go “ping.” My third eye visualized the screen she saw, “Delete this interview? Please select Yes or No.” She sighed. Thirteen minutes wasted. She won’t make her quota for the night. Tomorrow she’ll be given a list of numbers in a neighbourhood where only 20 percent of residents speak English fluently.

I reconsidered what I think to be the most pressing issue facing Canadians today: too many people living their lives pay-cheque to pay-cheque, hating the work they have to do, to feed themselves and their families.

Sure, I had a bad day, dealing with lawyers. But I am blessed to be in a position to even have a lawyer.

The old telemarketing firm I worked for is just around the corner from my office. Tomorrow I think I’ll pop in with a big box of Tim Horton’s donuts for the young men and women who are responsible for doing the research that provides the media with headlines like, “Canadians support privatization of healthcare.”

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