When looking at todays pop-culture and many other mass movements of popularity, one must understand how such popularity arises. Some may think popularity comes from quality:
Say Lady Gaga has better quality music then her competitors, therefor her popularity was earned through sheer recognition of her quality
One political candidate gains traction early through a primary, based on the overall quality of his political campaign.
One cell phone is more popular in children’s high-schools based on the overall quality the product delivers.
Others may say popularity is gained through sheer momentum, thus people will follow/buy/ect something because of the simple fact that it is “trending” towards popularity. This may also be seen as the sheep mentality.
Lady Gaga would have just sounded like any other pop-star if not that she signed with the right record label at the right time in the right place, thus getting lucky and the popularity followed those beneficial setting.
One political candidate gains many followers because either informed or uniformed voters see his already strong base, and see that as reason to follow him.
Many high-school kids want to buy a certain phone to ‘fit in’ with the cool kids who already have it.
Then there are those who would believe it is a combination of both the herd mentality and quality (along with other variables left out in this specific experiment). An experiment was ran a few years ago that tested these elements, by Duncan Watts — a network-theory pioneer and scientist at Yahoo and Columbia University.
Developing an experiment for this was tricky, because one would have to go back in history to change certain elements to see the outcomes of popularity. Though Watts came up with the ingenious experiment of gathering 12,900 participants and in essence rewound history each time.
created a Web site where thousands of subjects could listen to obscure songs. Half of the group simply downloaded the tunes they liked. The other half did the same, but could see how many times each song had already been downloaded.The second group tended to choose the most popular songs, creating a snowball effect for tunes picked by the first listeners. Though bowing to the influence of others gets a bad rap, there are good reasons to go along with the crowd, Salganik says. “We’re social creatures. If everyone at work is talking abut Harry Potter, it’s nice to be able to join in.” Besides, it’s a natural shortcut out of the tremendous consumer-choice overload we face.Groupthink tends to keep the dreck down, thankfully unappealing songs (as judged by the group who couldn’t see which were popular) were not downloaded often. But not all good songs rose to the top. Salganik advises artists not to feel bad if the masses haven’t latched on to their work. “Just because you haven’t broken through doesn’t mean people wouldn’t like what you’re doing if they were exposed to it.”
After this revealing experiment Watts said, “We have this myth of individual people making decisions, but our tastes are shaped by social forces”.
This is very disturbing on so many levels. In todays society, one could argue that conforming is more prevalent than individualism. Outcasts are tossed aside from the conforming students in middle-school to high-school. Political outcasts, those who don’t necessarily conform to party ideology are tossed aside. Good businesses are outdone by others through social forces outside ones control.
Also this means one could develop phony popularity through lying. If you lie about the merits of your product, you might suppress demand across you entire sector (think – lying politicians, big companies, ect).
Hopefully this is all just a socially cyclical mentality and it passes soon. Although, this study and many like it have been done for many years and yielded the same disturbing results – pointing to the fact that this is a social epidemic. This gives new meaning to the word “sheeple”.
Is this a byproduct from years of a degenerating education system? Is it a byproduct of the ever changing American culture? Most likely, it is both to certain extremes.
The best lightning rod for your protection is your own spine. -Ralph Waldo Emerson
The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.John F. Kennedy