Well, that was that

by , under life, o tempora

I like surveys and questionnaires, and I’m on the mailing list of a couple of survey institutions. One of these asked “do you want to be part of a scientific survey for the department of psychology of the University of Groningen?” Yes, of course, especially as I have a daughter studying there (not in that particular field, it turns out) so I filled in the prelims.

“Yes, you fall in our target group exactly! We’re looking for people over 55!” Surprising, because usually if they’re looking for a specific demographic I’m too middle-aged. (Or too carless or TV-less, or unaware of advertising, or eschewing ready-made food or without school-age children, but they didn’t ask that so it probably wasn’t relevant.)

So this was a trial of an app called Leefplezier. “This application researches the happiness of people in their everyday life. Participants answer question lists for 30 days and get a personalised report of the research findings afterwards.” In the Dutch blurb it becomes clear that it’s aimed at elderly people. I translate: “With more Joy in Life you can cope with life better, you stay out of care longer and experience more long-term contentment. But how does Joy in Life come into being and what factors influence the way you experience it? What makes you feel happy and what doesn’t?”

“Stay out of care” is the operative phrase here.

I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try, so I downloaded the app for a 10-day trial.

The first thing was to watch an instructional video, which had obviously been made with the unfortunate assumption “old people = uncomfortable with computers”. I skipped most of it because it didn’t seem to tell me anything new, except that I was being talked down to.

Then the only preliminary question before starting the questionnaires was “what is your usual bedtime?” without any explanation. I filled in 23:30 because that’s sort of average these days, and was told that I’d get questionnaires at 11am, 5pm and 11pm — really uncomfortable times for me because 11am and 5pm fall in the busiest parts of the day, not at natural part-of-the-day-ending points, and I do want to go to bed earlier occasionally. It was impossible to change the time afterwards. It was even a FAQ; if you filled in a time you weren’t happy with the only way to change it was to stop the trial and start over again. But by that time I’d already filled in three questionnaires. And got three badges.

BADGES. What, am I in kindergarten? One for filling in the first questionnaire! One for reading a snippet of information unlocked for me! One for filling in three questionnaires! Sorry, people, but that doesn’t work for me. (Or indeed any sort of gamification. I’d like my games to be games and my surveys to be surveys, thank you very much.)

The questions themselves — I can’t lay my finger on how exactly the language was patronising, but it felt like patronising to me. “Have you slept since the last checkpoint?” Which was awkward the first time because that was at 11am, and I would have slept if there had been a previous checkpoint, but I answered ‘no’. And when I had slept, it asked how well I’d slept, and how long, and if I was satisfied with that. With sliders.

All the questions were with sliders without a scale to measure by, so it was all guesswork. And if there’s anything I hate more than rating, it’s guessing. And they were the same every day, three times a day. I do like surveys, but some variety sure helps to keep me interested.

It asked me to rate how well I felt generally, if I was satisfied with my life, if I had laughed, if I felt inadequate, if I was afraid, if I was in any physical discomfort. (I have residual nerve damage from a hernia. I’m in physical discomfort all the time. I’m used to that.) I left most of the sliders in the middle (“normal”, “fairly X”) except “Are you satisfied with your life in general?” (all the way to Yes) and “Are you afraid?” (all the way to No). An added complication was that not all questions had the positive and the negative on the same side, so I had to pay careful attention to every question I wasn’t dismissing by touching the slider where it was.

It asked me if anything special had happened, positive or negative. That made me try to gauge how big an event had to be to be special — was a particularly pretty cat in the road while cycling to the swimming pool a positive event? Did someone who honked their car horn at me when I wasn’t off the intersection fast enough for them count as a negative event?

It asked me if I’d been able to mean something to people. How the bleep do I know? I don’t usually go around asking people if I’ve meant something to them.

It asked me what I’d been doing in the previous “part of the day” — that is, 11pm to 11am, 11am to 5pm, 5pm to 11pm. Now if it had been “morning from sleep to lunch”, “afternoon until dinner” and “evening after dinner” I could perhaps have said something more coherent, but it was mostly “other/miscellaneous” (the last catchall question) except one morning I’d spent editing Krita artist interviews (put down as “work/volunteering”) and one afternoon I’d spent ironing while reading webpages (put down as “housework”). It didn’t have “church” (though it did have “hobby, like reading, crossword puzzles or shopping”) but it wasn’t Saturday or Sunday yet so I didn’t have to decide whether to call that “work/volunteering”, “hobby” or “other/miscellaneous”.

To cause a more sensible schedule I’d have had to put my bedtime at half past midnight, but then I’d have got the last questionnaire of the day at midnight on the dot and would have had to stay up for it because questionnaires stay open for only one hour after they’re pushed to your phone.

After a day and a half I started to dread the little prip of my phone when a notification came in. The survey message had mentioned a 10-day trial, but the app itself said 30 days. I could have faced 10 days, I thought then, but not 30 of this constant nagging that made me feel faintly guilty, like the self-assessment diary the school psychologist made me do in high school. Because that’s what it is: a self-assessment diary. Frankly, I don’t see why assessing how much fun I’m having would make me have more fun.

We had friends over for dinner yesterday, 8 questionnaires in, and they agreed that it wasn’t worth the 20-euro webshop voucher I’d earn by doing it. But I wanted to stay around to fill in the second evaluation — the first one had only been “was it easy to download? did you understand the introductory video?” because the makers should know why it doesn’t work for at least this one person.

I filled in the 9th questionnaire at 11pm with something positive to report (friends over for dinner! choir practice! — oops, no category for that).

This morning, Friday, I went swimming fairly early, cycling to the pool at sunrise. I swam in bracing cool water and had a good conversation with a swimming buddy about church and community. I took the long way home because the sun was shining and the autumn colours were splendid. All of those things made me very happy.

Then I opened my mailbox and found the second evaluation. Not enough room in the text boxes to rant: 255 characters, I suppose, just enough to say “it doesn’t work for me, that’s not the way I tick, I feel patronised” with some specifics. And a choice, “I will continue the trial”, “I intend to stop”, “I’ve stopped already”.

So I ticked “I intend to stop” and uninstalled the app.

It’s obviously aimed at much older people, but I dare say many of the much older people will feel as patronised as I did. I can imagine a nightmare scenario in which old people get it pushed on them by carers “for their own good”, doubly patronised.

I won’t get the 20 euro voucher — but I found out that was only a draw anyway, not a sure remuneration. I did earn survey points to donate to charity, and they went to AMREF Flying Doctors as usual, because one of the best doctors I ever had, the trainee gynaecologist who helped Prima into the world, was off to be a Flying Doctor a couple of days later.


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