July 17, 2014
Why Is Trending So Trendy?
Why is trending so trendy? I know that it first sounds a little like “why is bread so bready?” – but the question is whether much of what is trending is doing so because it is of genuine interest to people, and can give us an indication, a fascinating indication, of what a huge collective of people from a wide range of demographics and countries are concerned and entertained by. Or, conversely, whether the phenomenon of trending is, in many cases, a less appealing indication simply that people can be a little sheep or zombie-like, and be drawn half-consciously to what the crowd is doing.
I suppose, at risk of getting too deep, that the broader question is how much faith we should have in human nature. Certainly at points in my life I have been snobbish about large elements of popular culture and trends, outside of the new social media sense of “trending.” I have considered the huge popularity of throw away music to be an indictment of the state of mind (let us use that lighter term rather than “intellect”) of great swathes of the population. I have tried, not always successfully, to resist trends in what people wear, and continue to this day to be aware that opinions on certain issues may not be justifiably formed, but rather based on received opinion. To use a soccer example in the dying embers of the World Cup trending phase, people say “I hate Cristiano Ronaldo,” having personally seen or heard too little about him, on or off the field, to condemn a man they have never met.
I will agree and join in with friends in the bar who complain about the amount of inane nonsense that is on social media. But then, later when we are drunk and snobbish inhibitions are lowered, we would all probably enjoy a funny cat video. As I get older, I am starting to see my own suspicion of things that are trendy, and trending, as a wall of snobbishness which is broken down by age as well as beer. I am willing to entertain the possibility that if something is popular and interesting to many people, then that makes it valid. Who am I to decide that my own solitary mind overrides the collective thoughts of millions?
Some people, certainly, may wish to comment on and share links about things just because others are doing so and they want to be part of something, rather than investing that much care in the subject. Others will be commenting on how stupid people are to care so much about something and in turn contribute ironically to its growth. In general, though, if something is trending it is probably because people have a genuine connection to it, and its spreading out across social media is just a means to an end; a way for people to find it. Take the current Comcast call recording that is doing the rounds, in which a poor fellow calls to try and cancel his account and is harangued by a customer service rep who sounds like he is begging him and spitefully persuading him not to end a romantic relationship rather than an Internet contract. The recording of this experience has gone viral because we can all relate to it, and because it is guiltily amusing at the same time. Both good reasons for millions of people to be interested in it, and I am sure more significant reasons than “it’s what the rest of the gang on social media are listening to, so maybe I should.”
I suppose an analogy of trending would be those little in-jokes that develop in a small social group, particularity when away together on vacation or at a festival or the like, where the same phrase is repeated all trip by everyone there, to the point of tedium. Of course, everyone joins in and it becomes bigger than it should simply because that is what happening, and it snowballs. But more than that the reason for a silly phrase’s success is that is is funny, entertaining and, to the people involved at least, interesting.
Image Credit: Thinkstock