Photo credit: Power Balance™ Performance Technology® silicone wristband, Power Balance Technologies Inc., www.powerbalance.com
Post-Silly Bandz, a new silicon accessory began springing up in the halls of high schools everywhere. Athletes were the first adopters of the trend, outfitting their wrists and then necks. I was in a statistics class with a teacher looking to make the subject tangible.
The Power Balance Wristband harnesses naturally occurring frequencies and programs them into a mylar hologram. The production process mimics Eastern philosophies. Once again, American entrepreneurs have rediscovered what the ancient mystics always knew: that these frequencies, in being harnessed and programmed and hologrammed, have monetizable results. The wristband improves balance, strength, and flexibility, as long it remains within one-to-three inches of your body’s energy field. They go for $3 on Amazon today. We watched this video on the class projector.
Power Balance Technologies Inc. eventually had to legally admit to their obvious bullshit, but the testimonials could stay. Good luck charms can still be alchemized with popularity and marketing, and players who wore the wristbands still performed significantly better because it gave them confidence. The key, for our class, was probably supposed to be that word “significant.” Within statistics, mattering has a measurable threshold.
That quantifying practice is problematic enough as is. It was the unspoken joke every time my friends compared p-values and z-scores on homework while forgetting what that meant, bluffing our way through the math of trust.
The demonstration videos, as sponsored proof, were supposed to teach us the importance of double-blind tests, in which neither the subject nor the experimenter has any expectation for how things should turn out. The quick, one-off exercises were supposed to teach us the importance of large sample sizes I think. And principally: correlation is not causation.
It was a really creative way to teach us about the Placebo Effect, together with a lot of important stats concepts, using a relevant trend. But I remember being so upset about the way it was revealed—slowly, and then all at once. We all knew the wristbands didn’t work, except, Teacher said, that they did. Turns out they did work! Even though of course, they didn’t. Discuss with your neighbor.
Maybe I was just frustrated as someone who had always grasped and loved math so far. Maybe I was indignant as a theater kid when the baseball team’s favorite trend was validated by a teacher who stretched to use sports analogies whenever remotely possible.
But now I think that I didn’t like a placebo being presented as a perfectly valid option among many—that whatever works for you, works. Placebos really help, but they begin and end inside an individual. The Power Balance bracelet is a charm for getting yourself out of a slump. It’s not a team strategy.
This summer, first canceled, is almost over. Most of us have unsheltered some and have begun again bumping into each other’s versions of comfort. We might be bored, or scared, desensitized, immunocompromised, considerate, young, grieving, “essential”… Everyone knows a little more about epidemiology now, mostly against their will. Everyone contains a complicated equation of risk assessment, and a long tradition of individualism settles to validate anyone’s behavior alongside other personal freedoms of expression. Anyway, we all might be exhausted from recalculating every time whomever we trust emphasizes something new.
I’m not totally saying those two weeks of my high school AP stats class caused a nationwide erosion of trust in authority and science, but I felt the same confusion then that now overwhelms me and makes me want to default to my own personal journey of concern—where feeling better is the same as being better.
At the same time, our individual coping mechanisms are vital beyond their practicality, and I want to be more sympathetic. I want to stop sweating inherent and uncontrollable risks while still being overcareful. Sideline to so much compounding death, I want to resolve the potentially transformative power of spirituality alongside the nothingness offered in “thoughts and prayers” alone. Whatever works for you, as long as it’s working.
So when I’m walking outside and pass someone, even on the street from the sidewalk, I pull a flimsy bandana over my mouth as I wave. It’s a tic, or it’s part of the greeting. I’ll pet a stranger’s dog but wipe my hand on my pants before touching anything else, like that matters. I wear a mask when ordering into a drive-thru speaker, as if the Taco Bell menu itself radiates disease.
These are my good luck charms, whatever their statistical significance. It’s overkill, but I’m making rules so I don’t overthink every decision and movement. Though mostly, they’re there to keep me from inventing other ones—allowances that might be more attuned to just my comfort.