If you want to know how old I am without me telling you how old I am, I was hazed relentlessly as a college fraternity pledge. All the cliché stuff, except I was never paddled. 

There’s no way Gen Z would stand for it today. They’re too smart.  

There was, of course, a dangerous amount of alcohol. During Hell Week, I had to finish a bottle of Southern Comfort every day for five days and I just threw up a little in my mouth writing that. By the third day, I learned to mix some of it with my morning orange juice, then my iced tea at lunch, just to spread the misery throughout the day. I can’t even look at a bottle of SoCo anymore without shivering.

I was barely 19. It was stupid.  

Each pledge had to carry a backpack with a variety of items dictated by our big brother – a pack of cigarettes, their favorite book, etc. If you were caught without any of these items, the consequences were severe. In my backpack was a particular, uh, “gadget,” I procured at an adult novelty store during a pledge scavenger hunt. One of the lowlights of my young life was when airport security flagged said gadget in the X-ray machine and inspected it in front of an appalled group of waiting travelers – including my dad who was escorting me to the gate on my return from a visit home to Pittsburgh. 

It was not his proudest father-son moment, to say the least. 

Every day was something. Bringing an upperclassmen’s girlfriend breakfast in bed, singing a song at the top of my lungs in front of the crowded dining hall, and more drinking. Always drinking. 

I once had to smuggle a half dozen baby chickens into the library and let them loose. I won’t tell you how I obtained the chickens or any of the other less-than-legal things I did – because I’m not sure what the statutes of limitations are. 

Looking back, I’m extremely lucky to have an unblemished arrest record. And to be alive. 

I wish I could say I was enlightened by the experience and set a course for change in our fraternity. But no, I eagerly paid forward similar misery to the classes that followed (although we did scale back the mandatory binge-drinking).

Thankfully, stronger and more mature people than me eventually did away with these boorish rituals, so that freshman today can have a safer and more civilized experience. Given the savvy and free-thinking nature of Gen Z, it would never happen anyway.  

But my stories will always be way better.

And I’d love to hear yours. 

Here’s what we’re seeing:

Consumer confidence didn’t plummet this week and that’s something. In fact, our Economic Sentiment Index had its first marginally positive reading since late July, the net result of mixed sub-indices. Optimism for the U.S. economy, the job market, housing market, and major purchases all nudged upward, even as consumers’ confidence in their personal finances fell sharply. Inflation is a pain in the ass.  

Parents are hyper-stressed now that kids are back to school. There’s a ton of great stuff about K-12 parents in this study, including data about how divided they are regarding vaccines for their younger children. What really stood out to me was the degree to which stress is impacting these parents in recent weeks. As one of those parents – who gets an email from our district every day about COVID cases in the school – I get it. It’s why more and more moms and dads are fearing a return to virtual schooling before the end of the year. 

On a more positive note, parents are generally pleased with the safety precautions their schools are taking. In a separate but related study, we found that parents are mostly happy with how schools are handling COVID – 56% are satisfied compared to 26% who aren’t. Those are pretty good reviews a month or so into the new school year. 

COVID disagreements are creating even more severe rifts among Americans than politics, except they’re pretty much the same thing. Nearly 1 in 4 U.S. adults say they are no longer speaking to one or more friends or family members because of their opinions about vaccines or the pandemic more broadly. Thirty-one percent say that concerns over vaccination status among their friends and family are negatively impacting their mental health. What’s notable, if not even remotely surprising, is how much more prevalent these rifts and stresses are impacting people on the left side of the political spectrum. 

Only about one-third of consumers prefer self-checkout. Maybe “only” isn’t the right qualifier here – I don’t know what I was expecting. For me, it’s entirely about how many items I have, i.e., my weekly grocery run is way too big for me to scan and bag myself but a quick run to Target for a couple things is manageable. Oh, who am I kidding? Nobody can only buy a couple things at Target. Anyway, 34% of Americans prefer DIY checkouts, compared to 54% who prefer professional help. It does vary by store type – self-checkout is more popular at big-box retailers than home improvement stores, for example. And there’s a significant correlation between people who prefer self-checkout and people who carry reusable grocery bags. Makes sense if you think about it.  

YouTube Gaming is starting to nip at the heels of Twitch. We don’t talk about gaming enough here, given how monstrous it is. Twitch still rules the roost of live game streaming, but YouTube’s competitive platform is gaining real ground – partly because they’ve attracted prominent gamers to defect and partly because Twitch hasn’t done a great job controlling bad user behavior. Most concerning to Twitch should be the decidedly younger and more female audience on YouTube Gaming. On another note, Twitch usage is down over the past few weeks as kids returned to school. Bad for Twitch, good for grades.

We published a few other studies this week too:

  • The perception of Subway’s food quality is in a freefall but its new menu seems to be stemming the tide (and Firehouse Subs has the highest net favorability in the category);
  • Not nearly enough fully vaccinated adults are planning to get a booster when they’re eligible;
  • The rental truck – especially U-Haul – market is booming;
  • Five surprising facts about messy people, such as they get a lot of sleep.

The most popular questions this week: 

Answer Key:  The Flintstones; 4; I’ve literally never thought about this once in my entire life; Appropriate, if face down; Never; Coleslaw, obviously

Hoping you’re well.



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