We're all going to Hell in a handbasket. And I think it might be my fault. I'm terribly sorry.
It started in the week of my birth. I can hardly claim to have known what I was doing at the time, being rather more interested in emptying my bowels in an extravagant fashion. But it turned out that I'd chosen the right time to be born. The British Cohort Study was underway, a study of everyone born in one particular week in 1970.
Originally this was just a case of midwives filling out a few extra forms to help the powers-that-be better understand a cross-section of their latest citizens. But five years later someone had the bright idea of contacting these families once more to see how their five-year-olds were getting on. Every few years after that there was a litany of tests, surveys and questionnaires.
Yes. I'm well aware that a survey and a questionnaire could be the same thing.
42 years later and the BCS is still ongoing. I've just completed the latest questionnaire-survey, actually. And that's when it occured to me that I've probably had a hand in ruining everything for everyone. You see, someone must be taking seriously my responses to all of this data-gathering. They're using it to plan things. They know in intimate detail how us 42-year-olds feel about politics, our general health requirements, the number of bedrooms we have in our houses and how many units of alcohol we consumed last week.
That's the sort of information you need when making decisions on behalf of everyone. Best to make sure it's all accurate, then, yes?
The problem is this. When I'm filling in a survey/questionnaire thing, I sometimes embellish things. I give the answers that I would like to give. When asked, "How many times have you visited a museum in the last 12 months?" I really want to be the sort of sophisticated person who can glibly tick the 'Four times or more' box.
I don't completely fabricate matters. There's no way I'm going to be able to convince anyone that I visit a gym three times a week. Or that I've never been inside a pub. But if the form asks me about my reading habits, its a regular diet of literary fiction all the way, rather than the truth (Twitter and camera instruction manuals, in case you were wondering).
We only have to hope that the thousands of other Cohorts are a little more diligent when giving their details. The people using all this data have to hope that some people are being brutally honest, otherwise they'll be opening loads of libraries and museums.
And we can't be having that, can we?