Methodology: Asking the Right Question
|A barefoot shopper. (Photo by|
colorblindPICASO on Flickr)
But what should be the first question? Well, I have my feelers out all over the internet when it comes to hearing people's thoughts on bare feet. I'm friends with numerous people who live with and without shoes, I watch a Twitter search related to all things "barefoot," and I get daily emails of Google search results related to the topic. A consistent message that I hear from a lot of people out there is their desire to go barefoot if it were only "socially acceptable" or if they "could." Furthermore, many people have told me that they would go barefoot more often if they lived in a better climate - specifically, warmer conditions. There are other factors that people take into account as reasons they don't go barefoot, but those two seem to be the foundational reasons why going barefoot isn't an option for them. I figure that for every person that says it, there may be many others who at least are thinking it.
So I asked the question, "Would you go totally barefoot in public if it was socially acceptable and the weather was nice?" I included the caveat for nice weather to make it more reasonable to imply that the basic conditions for personal comfort are favorable enough that they'd feel comfortable going barefoot in the first place. Notice that I made no mention of sharp objects, diseases or any other issues that naysayers bring up against going without shoes. I wanted for respondents to answer while keeping those concerns in mind. Finally, a key word in this question is 'totally.' I thought it was important to clearly state that there would be nothing on their feet. This eliminates the possibilities of socks, flip flops, minimalist footwear or anything else being considered.
The answers were written to be simple and few in number. I wanted to get a good cross section of responses in which anyone and everyone could find a comfortable answer. Respondents could choose "No, thank you," "Sure, some of the time," or "Absolutely, almost always."
The Results: Surprising Even to Me
It turns out that one out of every two people on Facebook would frequently go barefoot in public if their perception of social acceptance was achieved. Furthermore, about three out of four people would go without shoes publicly at least some of the time. Only about a quarter of the respondents indicated that they still would not go barefoot.
But there's more to these results: One thing I wanted to know was how skewed the results might be based on the ratio of responses from my friends versus those who I'm not friends with on the service. Basically, did those who know me and my barefoot lifestyle mess up the numbers. Interestingly enough, the responses were almost identical all the way across the board. The biggest deviation in responses from friends versus non-friends was about 2%. Not bad.
Let's look at some charts. First, here's a pie graph of the overall answers to the question with all 533 Facebook users who responded represented.:
So how accurate are these results? I wondered that myself. Using a sample size calculator from Creative Research Systems, I determined that for Facebook's more than 500 million active users (using 500 million as the population size), the results hold a 95% confidence level with 4.25% margin of error.
With everything I've written and presented so far, what does all this actually mean? I have drawn a few conclusions of my own, but yours may vary. (Don't berate me because your conclusions don't agree with mine.):
- Because this poll was based only on Facebook users, it's hard to know exactly how it translates to the general populace. Although there are 500 million users on Facebook worldwide, only slightly more than 116 million of them are from the U.S. It's difficult to know how breakdowns of nationality, age, gender, political and other characteristics vary between Facebook's user population who responded and the general population. Without anything better to go on at this time, however, I believe it's reasonable to draw some conclusions about the general population from a good sample of 500 million users. After all, that's more than the entire population of the United States.
- If one questions whether going barefoot in public is "socially acceptable," I have to conclude that it probably IS. If you assume that those who are willing to do it are fine with others doing it, too - a reasonable assumption - that means that most of the public really are okay with others' public barefootedness. The number may even be higher if you consider that those who don't want to go barefoot themselves may still be fine with others doing it, though there's no data to support that assumption (i.e. That's another question to ask).
- There is widespread mistaken assumption that most of us are opposed to people going barefoot in public. It goes back to the notion of perception versus reality. People may not think it's socially acceptable, so they don't go barefoot in public. The problem is that a LOT of people think that and therefore the perception continues. I'd bet that this perception translates to business managers and security who think they're keeping the other patrons from being offended. It's pretty likely that a vast majority of the other patrons actually don't care. In all actuality, they would probably rather be barefoot, too.
- I find these results to be VERY surprising. I expected that there could be 20-30% of people who would go barefoot most of the time, but not half of all responders. The fact that three out of four people would go barefoot in public at least some of the time tells me that people do have a respect for their feet. The results back up two big sentiments that I hear on a regular basis: "I LOVE going barefoot," and "I used to go barefoot all the time as a kid." Even though they say these things, they DON'T go barefoot in public. Maybe the reason for this is because of perceived social norms. That said...
- We need to educate people that going barefoot in public is okay and that others are supportive. If people who prefer to go barefoot understand that they have the support of many others behind them, the visibility of bare feet in public could skyrocket in the next few years. As more people choose to go without shoes in public, there will be more pressure on businesses to allow them as patrons.
- We need to educate businesses that many people would prefer to go barefoot while out and about and that they are not a threat to the bottom line. I really do believe that many managers and security base much of their discrimination off baseless thinking that other patrons will be offended by seeing people go barefoot. I've experienced it myself when an art gallery manager -- after I shot down all his other reasons for denying me -- told me he didn't want other patrons to be offended...in an art gallery that had a number of potentially offensive/disturbing pieces on display.
- More research and polling needs to be done about these topics. There's so much more I'd like to know about people's stances on bare feet. For instance, what are people's primary reasons for opposing the idea of going barefoot in public? What do people see as the primary use for shoes? Are men or women more accepted when they go barefoot? The clearer the data we can get on all this, the better.
What do you think of these results? Do these responses surprise you? Do you think I made a mistake and these results aren't reliable? What can we take away from this poll? Please leave your responses in the comments section below.