Send me all your money TODAY! There’s never been a better time!

You’re probably thinking, “Is this some kind of scam, or has this guy lost his mind?” I don’t think so, though I must admit the title is kind of a dramatic way to make my point. (I’d originally intended to call this “Kill your self today! There’s never been a better time!”, but I thought that might be a bit too much.)

I saw an ad on the Google homepage recently: “Fast. Smart. Safe. It’s never been easier to put _Firefox on your Android phone._” This strikes me as yet another example of a kind of statement that’s been annoying me for years. The statement, nearly always in an ad of some sort, exhorts you to do such-and-such now because “there’s never been a better time”. But it’s clear that what they want you to think is that you should do it because “this is the best time ever”! A much stronger statement — and one that (in my experience) really is often justified by the facts. But why would advertisers ever use a weaker argument than is justified? The only reason I can think of is carelessness.

 

It pisses me off (please excuse my language. I didn’t realize I felt that strongly about this until I wrote that phrase!) that people are so careless about the fact that “less than” and “greater than” aren’t the only possible relationships between two ordinal values. I suggest bringing this up to students to raise their awareness of mathematical thinking in the Real World. A possible assignment: find 20 random examples of statements that “there’s never been a better time” for something and report on how many really mean “this is the best time ever”.

If you’d like to see more examples yourself, there’s never been a better time! At the moment, Googling “there’s never been a better time” (with quotation marks) gets “about 3,360,000 results”.

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