Sociology for Psychics

November 23, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

I knew it was the ecological fallacy – using aggregate data to draw conclusions about individuals – but I took a shot. And even though I got a bull’s eye, more or less, the effect wasn’t what I’d hoped for. Here’s the story – sociological knowledge in action.

I wanted to make a change in my phone account, so I tried the “chat with one of our representatives online” option.

My chat window correspondent typed, by way of introduction, that she was Wendy M. Now Wendy was a name I hadn’t heard for a while. So as we were waiting for the system to register the changes I’d requested and that she was entering, I opened another window and looked for Wendy at the Census site on baby names.

The name Wendy had peaked in popularity in from 1969 to 1972, climbing as high as 28th place.
In the chat, I asked if Wendy was her real name or if perhaps she was really in Bangalore and Wendy was merely her nom de screen.

No, she assured me, she was Wendy, and she was in Georgia.

I guessed that the Georgia curve for Wendy might have lagged the national average by a year or two. So I said,
Me: OK, are you 37 years old?
Wendy: I’m 36.
And that was all. Not, “Wow, very close!” not “How did you know?” I thought she would be stunned – after all, the only cues I had were typed words in a chat window, no picture, no voice – and I had come within a few months of her precise age. But Wendy seemed utterly unimpressed with my psychic powers – far less than I had been. So I didn’t bother asking her about her school friends Jennifer, Kimberly, and Michelle.

(Previous posts about names here, here, and here.)