Survey Says…

And I Thought That Deciphering Garbled Text Was Bad… After the Break…

Survey Says…

The history behind slavery is not a pretty sight. It’s downright ugly… And brutal… And grotesquely unfair. A lot of really good, really honest people have been killed or died along the way so that a lot of other modern-day people aren’t, themselves, slaves today.

As one slave owner once supposedly said to another, though, the secret to slavery isn’t in how you keep them but in convincing them that they’re not slaves at all. It’s sort of a variation on that old phrase that the greatest trick the Devil has ever accomplished is to have everyone think that it doesn’t exist. The only way that indentured servitude is ever acceptable in the public consciousness is to merely convince people (wrongly, of course) that what they are experiencing isn’t indentured servitude.

As PC gamers, we’ve allowed ourselves to believe that any development that allows us to purchase games and play them must be a good thing. We’ve gone from code wheels to manual checks to CD-Keys to physical CD copy protection to Internet-based DRM… And all along the way we’ve been humming, smiling and waving cheerfully to anyone who passes by. The road to heck is paved with good intentions and we’ve managed to step onto every knobby cobblestone along the way with nothing more but a song in our heart and a skip in our step. Today’s crowd bats not one eyelash towards the notion that they get nothing more than little 1’s and 0’s and… nothing else. No print manuals. No box. No disc. And, of course, no guarantee that, someday, they’ll be able to play their game independent of the download service that they purchased the game from.

PC gamers are used to being shackled to Steam or Origin or Games for Windows Live nowadays. However, indentured servitude doesn’t always need to take the form of game “ownership” (you don’t really own a game if you bought it through a download service… That’s the whole point) but in merely downloading anything anymore.

For instance, we’ve all become accustomed to the “garbled text test” whenever we want to write a comment or sign up for an account on a message board. The test is fairly benign – There are two words displayed graphically and you simply type them out textually. One of the two words is fairly garbled while the other is somewhat clear and straightforward. The history behind this test, though, is rather devious: Someone apparently decided that, instead of having trained staff decipher the garbled text from old books that needed to be digitized, to have unsuspecting internet users and gamers do the work for them. The person performs the “garbled text test,” the results go to a large database and the consensus wins out. The word, ultimately, is translated. Thanks for “helping” us out, “volunteer.”

Now, I’m all for charity, don’t get me wrong. There’s far more work out there in society than the ability to convince someone to pay for all of that work being performed. There are people to feed and children to medically examine and neighbors to help and communities to rebuild after disasters and so forth… All of that is above reproach. If we, as a society, want to maintain a certain standard of living than we need to perform the work, regardless if someone receives a paycheck or not at the end of the day because of it.

There is something too devious, though, in subtly forcing people into performing deeds. Why should I work for someone just to download a program… Or to become a member of a message board… Or to make a comment? Yes, it may be for the “better good” but the whole idea of volunteering is that you… You know, “volunteer.” For real. As in, you actually volunteer, knowing full well what you are about to do.

Now, though, some have taken this indentured servitude a step further. Now, you have to answer a survey.

I’d love to claim that I am making this up. I’m not.

Would you like the program? Answer these three (supposedly) benign questions.

First, the whole point of a survey is that the sample is randomly determined within the parameters that you set. For instance, you can’t ask every Hispanic male aged 19-38 who loves watching the TV show “The Jeffersons” the following questions but you can gather a pool of them and than ask random individuals from that pool the questions in the hopes that, being a random sample, their answer is the answer that the whole group would have responded with. That’s not the case with this “forced survey” – I could be anyone. I could be 15 years old, I could be 70. I could be five feet two inches (no, I have no idea how many kilograms that is – Take a guess) or seven feet nine inches tall. I could be light. I could be heavy. Wealthy. Poor. Sick. Healthy. Progessive. Conservative.

Next, a survey needs to be honest and, to be honest, how many people answer questions on the Internet honestly. When, for instance, was the last time that you filled out your birthdate accurately whenever you needed to enter a website that requests your birthdate? As far as a bajillion age-restricted websites are concerned, I was born on January 1st, 1900… And very spry for my age, let me tell you. Does anyone honestly think that these survey questions are going to be met with any amount of honesty?

What next? We need to spit into a sterile cup so that we can download mods? Share our DNA to upload files to a file-sharing site? Provide a hair sample in order to check your status on Facebook?


Good walls make for good neighbors. Impenetrable walls, though, serve no other purpose than shutting people out.

Let’s go back to the age where I don’t have to type out words or answer questions because I’d like to download something or register somewhere. You don’t need a survey to gauge how popular that would be.



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