There are no “average” people

Okay, it’s time for a minor rant about a pet peeve of mine: I hate it when politicians talk about “average Americans,” as though people who don’t aspire to a career in politics are somehow “average.” How many people do you know that like to be referred to as “average?”

This practice afflicts the tech world, too. For example, while I agree wholeheartedly with this post by Scott Karp, the talk of “average people” made me grind my teeth. How about we use the phrase “non-geeks” (or “non-technical people”) when referring to people whose lives don’t revolve around their computers? That seems less condescending to me.

10 thoughts on “There are no “average” people

  1. LOL Nick,
    Visit us average folk on the other side of the atlantic. Advertising and Marketing companies are using this to target their product. ‘Nobody is average, neither are you, you need our product to declare your indiviuality’. It’s all getting a bit Monty Python.
    To be honest I diagree with Scott Karp: most social groups depend on their token geek to show ecitement over new developments and act as a filter. Saves them having to do it for themselves, because the average human’s ultimate goal is less work.
    OK in reality it is much more complex, but good technology need to rise up through multiple levels of geek filters before being seen, adopted and loved by Joe Public.

  2. Take a chill pill …this is exactly how we go down the road of PC (political correctness)insanity. Your reading too much into it there is no big plot to make people “average”. It is not part of the vast right wing or the vast left wing either. It is a figure of speech. I am sorry you get offended by the word “average” it is just a general description…don’t be so thin skinned… relax….just a thought…

  3. I would have to agree with varmac. I can think of a lot more things to upset about. Can we assume some politician you don’t care for said this?

  4. Since average is the sum divided by the count, it seems to me that if you took the amount of geek proficiency (an abstract concept sure) of all the people in the country (or world) and divided by the number of people. The average would come out to very non-geek.
    Thus the “average” person is not a software developer. Let’s not confuse *average* with *all*.
    Maybe a better term that wouldn’t raise your ire would be to rephrase it as “In general, people …”

  5. I think many people who talk about average know very well that each person is probably really different from the next.
    But it’s sure easier to focus on a single target, call him average or call her “our audience” or whatever.
    In some cases it’s wrong and lazy thinking. If you only want a very specific audience it’s great.
    The flip of this is that if you design products and you segment your audience into a lot of groups, you multiply your workload (probably in a combinatorial way).
    So, yea I agree average is often bad but the idea of a single audience makes design soooo much easier.

  6. But back to the original target, politicians, not designers.
    Yes politicians are dead wrong to think and talk average.
    These guys are morally bound to recognise the diversity of their audience and find an effective way to cater for that diversity.

  7. While I too loath the term “average”, as Haacked pointed out, there is an average that is defined as the sum divided by the count. So when politicians (or CEOs, or usability experts) talk about “average people”, they mean all the people between one extreme and the other–a.k.a. target audience.

  8. Nick, try spending a day in Wal Mart somewhere east of Las Vegas and west of the Mississippi — then see how you feel about the “average people” moniker.
    Your assertion that most people wouldn’t want to be called “average” is fundamentally elitist. The truth is that average people are very content in their averageness and think that people like us who have these kind of debates are useless intellectual snobs.

  9. There was an episode of West Wing that had this argument in it. I remember them citing statistics that pointed at the fact that the “average” person liked being called “average.”
    Granted it’s a tv show, so I don’t know how true it was.

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