It used to be that one mans (or womans) opinion was just that–the subjective thoughts of a single individual. But thats all changed with the advent of the World Wide Web and other venues for instant polling.

Hardly a day goes by when Im not asked to participate–online, by phone, on television, in the supermarket–in some poll or survey. Its quite flattering, really, that so many people seem to think my opinion is so important.

Case in point: While watching the American League Divisional Series on TV recently, I saw a poll question pop up on the bottom of my screen. At the time, the California Angels were struggling against the New York Yankees in game one. The pop-up question said something like: “Should [California manager] Mike Scioscia pull the starting pitcher out of the game?”

I picture the sequence of events something like this:

I go online and vote to pull the starter.

The phone rings in the Angels dugout and a breathless bench coach relays the message to Scioscia: “Ara Trembly says pull our starter.”

Scioscia bounds out of the dugout, interrupting the at-bat of Jason Giambi, and sprints to the mound.

“Youre outta here,” a panting Scioscia tells the starter. “What? Why are you taking me out?” the stunned hurler asks.

“We just got the word from Ara Trembly, the Tech Guru,” Scioscia explains.

“Oh, well thats okay, then,” says the pitcher, meekly making his way to the dugout.

Meanwhile, the plate umpire comes out to the mound to see what all the fuss is about. “Trembly told us to pull the guy out,” Scioscia tells him.

“Ara Trembly, the Tech Guru?” the ump inquires. Scioscia nods his assent. “Good God, man, what took you so long?”

Unfortunately, my advice reached the Angels a bit too late for that game, but you can be sure my input played a pivotal role in Anaheims subsequent annihilation of the hapless, pathetic, impotent Yankees but I digress.

While Web surfing one day, I found a poll about the characters of the TV sitcom, “Friends.” The question was something like: “Should Rachel marry Joey or Ross?”

Now this was a tough one. I mean, Joey seems like such a regular guy, and Id really hate to see him lose out. Ross, on the other hand, has that perpetual hangdog look–probably the sensitive type. I figured a rejection would send him scrambling for the Prozac. What to do?

Finally, in my Solomon-like wisdom, I chose the third option, that she should marry “no one at all.” This way, Ross and Joey would still be buds and Rachel could find someone less inane than these two (How hard could that be?). Im sure the shows producers derived great benefit from my insights.

Okay, I know what youre thinking. You think Mike Scioscia and the writers of “Friends” couldnt give two figs about my opinion. In fact, Ill bet you think that the people who take these polls and surveys dont care about my views either. Well, youre right on all counts.

In this age of instant opinion, weve become so jaded about such polls that they enjoy the same status as Miss Cleos psychic predictions. The polls and surveys are, as the psychic ads so clearly point out, “for entertainment purposes only.”

Yet there are some surveys that deserve much more respect from us, simply because they are done scientifically and they focus on respondents who are very knowledgeable–even expert–in the given subject area.

One such study done this past July was the U.S. Business Cyber Security Study from the Business Software Alliance. This was a survey of 602 information technology professionals, along with a sample of 1,000 U.S. adults and 1,094 Internet users.

It was the views of the IT pros in particular that caught my attention. Nearly half of all the IT pros said U.S. businesses are likely to face a major cyber attack within the next year. Further, among those pros with the most expertise in security issues–those responsible for their companys computer and Internet security–60% said a major cyber attack is likely within the next year.

The threat of a concerted cyber attack on U.S. business computer systems or on the Internet as a whole is something we warned about shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. At that time, Clint Harris, vice president at Conning & Company, a research organization based in Hartford, compared the impact on financial services of the Internet going down to that of “an asteroid striking the Earth.”

Now we have literally hundreds of IT professionals warning us that some kind of major cyber attack is likely to occur. That certainly takes this issue out of the Miss Cleo realm for me.

Ironically, only 25% of “U.S. adults” thought such an attack is likely in the next year. Heres where I advise that we go with the experts, who understand not only the risks involved, but the possible methods that might be employed to bring our systems–and perhaps our economy–down.

Further, while more than half of the IT pros in the survey said U.S. businesses ability to defend against a major attacked has improved since 9/11, 45% said we are still not adequately prepared.

Lets all take a cue from the IT pro survey responders and alter our routines in the name of security. That means paying attention to those annoying security procedures–or putting them in place if theyre lacking. It also means staying away from personal Web surfing and online communication (e-mails, instant messages, etc.) when on the job. Such communications often open the door to malicious intrusion.

If theres a 50% chance an attack will come, then theres also a 50% chance that it wont. So dont stop having fun with polls and surveys, but know when to chuckle and when to make changes.

Thats about it from Guru-land. Besides, I have to answer this survey about who should start at quarterback for the New York Jets next Sunday. Somehow, though, I think even a gurus input wont help there.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, November 4, 2002. Copyright 2002 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.