As sociologists, we are trained to look for broad social patterns. Often, we do this using survey data from hundreds or even thousands of people and using complicated statistical procedures to account for differences between our sample and our population. Recognizing this, I’ve heard sociologists use the disclaimer that their personal experiences are based on an “N of one,” meaning that they are drawing conclusions from a sample of one. As we know, though, the general public does not hold itself to the same standard. I was recently reminded of this when an Australian teenager’s Facebook picture of an 11-inch “Footlong” sub from Subway caused people to freak out. Here it is:
One Subway sandwich in Australia was less than 12 inches long and suddenly people assumed that all subway sandwiches are less than 12 inches long. People sued. Subway responded that baking times may lead to differences in the size of their bread but that they are increasing their efforts to ensure consistency.
On one hand, it is incredible that a single picture posted on a social network can lead to a response from a major corporation. On the other hand, N of one!