Thursday, July 09, 2009


Labels get a bad rap. Yes, in some instances they can be abused when people allow stereotypes to affect their judgment of individuals based on attributes shared by a broader group. But when they are accurate (and used judiciously), they can communicate a lot of information very efficiently.

This thought comes to me as I apply for an online golf handicap and am asked to choose what sort of golfer I am from the following list:

High Handicapper
Bogey Golf
Low Handicapper
Teaching Pro
Touring Pro

Those are labels that work. Each is just about the right amount of information to determine how good a golfer someone is, and therefore how comfortable you might feel playing a round with them.

I'd quibble about the Teaching Pro and Touring Pro categories. I understand why the service would want that information, but it spoils the climb from least-skilled to most-skilled. At least the inclusion of Teaching Pro does, since I've known several teaching pros who are no longer scratch golfers. Give the pros a different box to click.

Now it was time to label myself. I was tempted at first to select "Mid-80s" for my skill level, but only for a moment until checking "Bogey Golf." I may have had a few rounds in the mid-80s, but I'm a much more reliable 88 or 92 still.

Then it got worse. They wanted to know my personality. But for this far more complex labeling task I was offered only four options:


Which is why the choice was much tougher. I'm definitely competitive. (Oy, am I compeititive.) Certainly not passive. Playful? Yes, but I don't want people to think I'm frivolous. Focused? On golf, yes. In general? Well, I'm not called "ADD boy" by one who knows me well for nothing. Competitive it was, though I worry some might read "competitive" as "jerk who yells at himself, throws clubs and plays head games with you".

As labels, that meager collection doesn't tell you much. How much harder is it to choose 30 or so traits and let people choose three to describe themselves?

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