Thursday, June 6, 2013

203. 40,000 hotdogs at an Indians Game

Twitter continues to be relevant, maybe more than Facebook, as we are mired in an environment of trending topics and hashtags. It is used in different ways, and as I have written on a prior occasion, I use it to follow a variety of interests—mostly newspapers, cable news sources, sport teams and social organizations. I like the timely quick bits of information, which I can follow up as I wish. When our house caught on fire in 2011, I took to Twitter and a local newspaper feed to get information on what had happened.

But Twitter information is selective, I follow that which interest me—such liberal news sources, lots of animal rescue and welfare groups, and vegetarian/vegan advocates.

One danger in my selectiveness, or anyone’s selectiveness, is perspective. Whether it is Twitter or the friends we choose, or the news channels we watch, we tend to gravitate to those who believe as we do. For advocates, it provides motivations and celebration; for the ideological, it reassures one’s philosophies.

Thus, as a follower of animal welfare and vegetarian organizations, I read about, on a daily basis, everything going on in that community. I am appalled at the military use of animals in their training exercises, university animal testing and the news that a greyhound was electrocuted. At the same time, I celebrate when a school goes vegetarian, a research lab is shut down, or news about the latest health benefit of following a plant-based diet. Every day, I have an emotional response to this information—often several of them (Chipotle is testing tofu!). It becomes a relationship.

While this information is extremely important to me, it’s easy to lose social perspective. Being active in a social movement, and engaging with others who share the same values, it’s easy to overestimate its relevance among others. And this is often noted when I read an article from a “neutral” news source, in which the comments, often harshly, criticize those who believe in animal welfare and vegetarianism. It’s easy to forget that vegetarians are only three percent of the population. Because I notice each vegetarian and am exposed to the issues on a daily basis, it seems like a lot more to me. In reality most people don’t care.

It’s the same with news organizations and talk radio, in which it selects issues to raise passions and reassure perspectives. Turn on a liberal radio show recently and you will be outraged at the five year-old boy that killed his sister and the gun company that markets to toddlers. Turn on a conservative radio show and you will hear how liberals want to take away your guns. In the same way, viewers and listeners overestimate perspective—it reassures how reasonable their beliefs are and how outrageous and extreme other perspectives are. It has, in part, created the polarization of this country.

I thought of this distortion the other day at the Indians game. My wife and I attended on “Dollar Dog Day.” As I preface, I begrudge the fact that this promotion did not exist when I ate meat—thankfully, I suppose, because I might have averaged a hot dog per inning. But more than I imagined, the promotion was very popular, as the concession lines were very long. My wife and I sat in amusement as hot dogs were consumed in considerable quantity. However, we were reassured when a young girl in front of us turned down a hot dog from a friend, “I am vegetarian,” she said.

We had a personal moment of celebration, and my wife said, “See, it’s catching on.” And while I think she is correct, because I do think there is a positive movement toward a plant-based diet—our perspective might be biased.

The unfortunate truth was that, according to the scoreboard count, they had sold over 36,000 hot dogs by about the seventh inning. Figuring that number easily topped 40,000 by game’s end, and calculating that there were about 20,000 fans, it averaged out to about two hot dogs per fan (and at least a few had more than two, since me, my wife and girl in front of us did not have any). We saw a couple of teens go through a near half dozen all by themselves.

The point, I suppose, is that despite our exposure to vegetarianism, and the importance it plays in our lives, and because we have a lot of vegetarian friends, it is still a movement that only represents three percent of the population. It’s popularity is exaggerated, in our minds, by our exposure, reassurance and advocacy with vegetarian organizations, news and events.

By selecting who we follow on Twitter, newspapers we read and news organizations we watch, we find our comfort zone with our beliefs and acceptance. Most people only care about what they care about—and there are enough issues, interest and causes to go around.  But it is easy to exaggerate our perspective and the importance of the things that matter to us based on the company we keep and the information we select.

40,000 hot dogs is a lot of hot dogs.

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