Why quality means more than quantity

January 28, 2015

Einstein quoteI love this quote, but alas, Einstein never said it. (Isn’t it amazing how many quotes are not correctly attributed?) Apparently this gem originated in a 1963 paper by sociologist William Bruce Cameron: “It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Which is about the best defense of the validity of the social sciences of I’ve seen.  So no matter who said it, I like it.

Here in “The Valley” –Silicon Valley to those of you who might wonder–here in The Valley, where engineers are king–there’s always been great respect for things that can be counted: data, sales, eyeballs, clicks.  It’s always been quantitative over qualitative.  That’s the world we in which we live.

But not so fast!  I want to defend quality over quantity.

Not everything can and should be reduced to a number. To a quantity. For example, some fabulous TV shows have been cancelled on the basis of numbers. Now yes, I get that advertisers need viewers. Today’s audiences have so many choices that viewership is fragmented. But it would be so nice if networks of all kinds would invest in a little quality television programming as their give-back to viewers.  One such show was Laura Dern’s HBO series, Enlightened, which was quirky but so interesting. Gone now.  And The Newsroom, which so many of us loved. Even pay premium networks cancel fine shows.

I’m sure there’s a business case, and maybe it has to do with the age of the audience. TV shows that skew older aren’t as appealing to advertisers because advertisers somehow think younger people consume more. Spend more money.  I can make a different case, but advertisers don’t want to hear it.

Do we really need another vampire zombie series? Or more violent shows on TV?

Folks love Downton Abbey on PBS–yes it’s kind of soapy but still miles above network series and appealing to an older audience, too–you’d think other networks would see the value of high quality programming.

So, with all due respect to you numbers people, I’m proudly waving the flag of quality over quantity. And I sure wish more of our institutions did.

Your thoughts?


27 comments on “Why quality means more than quantity
  1. Yep, quality should always rule…and I get why sometimes numbers are counted and there is some validity to that. But we have to be careful not to get all caught up in that and cater to numbers over integrity!

  2. Carolann says:

    You’ve touched on a subject that gets under my skin for sure. I don’t watch as much TV as I would like, but the shows I do watch I enjoy with great enthusiasm and have seen far too many times get canceled for the reasons you mentioned above. The suits, as I like to call them, make hasty decisions based on these “numbers” and often times they are wrong. I adore The Newsroom, and I knew that would gone within a blink as well. I’ve given up on hoping the shows I like would stick around for a while as I don’t believe these suits will ever understand your points above. I watch Downton but am not crazy about it and can’t understand all the hoopla over it.

  3. Oh, I couldn’t agree more. I loved Laura Dern’s Enlightened and was so very disappointed to see it go away. I think that story line could have gone on for a good long while. My daughter works in advertising and even she at 22 is sick of hearing how everything should appeal to 18 to 34 year olds. Really??? Has no one heard that baby boomers are the largest population??? Something is missing here. Oh yeah, quality…………….

  4. My husband and I just had this conversation the other day. I told him that standards are dropping so low it’s a little disconcerting. If anything is “popular,” it’s considered valuable. I don’t think that in twenty years anybody will be discussing “Two and a Half Men,” but I’m pretty sure somewhere, someone will be purchasing the entire “Friday Night Lights” series. Quality lasts.

  5. Debbie D. says:

    You are so right about all of this, Carol! I never understood the logic of assuming that those of us over 50 didn’t spend money and isn’t the Boomer generation the largest demographic? Shame on those advertisers! The only Vampires I care about sprung from Anne Rice’s imagination and as for Zombies…..WHY?? Of the shows you mentioned, Downton Abbey sounds familiar, but I haven’t seen it. Just signed up for Netflix and am hooked on “Damages”, starring Glenn Close, another one of our generation. Sad to see it only lasted 5 seasons.

  6. Lisa Froman says:

    Ha, if I worried about numbers, I would never post. I write for myself and the handful of people who might read it. And hope they get something out of it.

  7. Donna says:

    Quality! If quantity was king Elizabeth Taylor would have been an expert on marriage. As I watch Parenthood ride off into the sunset I understand your question.

  8. Ruth Curran says:

    Measuring quality is a sticky thing isn’t it? And then proving that that measurement means anything is even stickier. Add to that translating all of that in a form that advertiser will get. I wonder if it is that advertisers just don’t know how to market to our generation but they totally get how to speak to the young and that is an easier path. It is a shame that quality gets buried in the process though.

  9. Tammy says:

    It has always been quality over quantity. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about TV shows, chocolate, men, sex, etc. what matters is the character of what you have, not the amount of it. Luckily for me, I learned that very early on in life. Oh, how it’s made things SO much easier along the way! Love the read, my darling!

  10. Diane says:

    There’s only one of me. I rest my case. :-0

  11. I just had a discussion with a couple of T.V. execs about quality and of course their answer was money. Producing quality material is expensive and risky for investors and advertisers. Reality T.V. is easy, inexpensive and draws a large, loyal audience. Sad but true.
    I am going to predict a large shift in advertising geared towards midlifers in the next two- years and am I am hoping TV and movie producers take the leap as well.

  12. As a sociologist (at least former) I agree. Qualitative is better than quantitative in many respects.

  13. I hope that shift happens, Doreen.

  14. Michelle says:

    Love the quote and agree so much.

    Although, I love the zombie show. I’m late to the party..but I fell in love fast.

  15. I can always COUNT on you to tell it like it is, my friend 🙂

  16. Lana says:

    I wish quality over quantity ruled – but I fear the next generation definitely doesn’t see it that way. I miss The Newsroom already.

  17. I couldn’t agree more! Great post Carol.

  18. CAC2 says:

    When it comes to making decisions based on ratings, I totally agree with you. A perfect example is the current state of most television news programs in the United States today. There was a time when networks placed a higher emphasis on producing a quality news broadcast, even if that meant a net loss in terms of profit. Now, “news” has essentially become a form of entertainment. This is why we get around-the-clock coverage of events such as a Malaysian airline crash or the Casey Anthony trial. A brief mention of these items would suffice, but viewers want more drama and less substance, regardless of whether the information is pertinent to the voting booth. Sorkin’s The Newsroom addressed this troubling issue.

    That being said, mathematics is the only universal language in the universe. No matter where you are in the cosmos, the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter will always be equivalent to Pi (3.14159…). No exceptions.

    There is even a quantitative basis to language. Bertrand Russel, a British mathematician and major player in the analytic philosophy movement, attempted to show how the field of linguistics could be reduced to mathematical constructions. This “philosophy of logical analysis,” as he described it, seized upon the concept that proper language use involves the implementation of correctly reasoned (a.k.a. logical) statements, and that since logic is a mathematical enterprise at its core, so is language. Obviously, I am oversimplifying his thoughts, but I would refer anyone to the final chapter in his seminal work, “The History of Western Philosophy” if they would like to learn more.

    Main point: whether we realize it or not, there is a case to be made that mathematics lies at the heart of EVERYTHING, including those things in which we view as purely qualitative. After all, the method by which human beings can even begin to describe something as “qualitative” originates in the brain, and the brain is a perfect example of electrical impulses and parallel processing coming together to produce a conscious experience. If impulse propagation and computer-like processing do not scream “mathematics” to you, then I don’t know what will.

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