Yeah, so, like the other day something popped up on the screen that got us thinking about things in a different sort of way. It was one of those really clever memes that we aspire to, but somehow despite our best efforts, can never quite replicate. The content of the message isn’t the important part, though, since it quickly faded from view down the relentless feed of the timeline. What it got us wondering was even more basic: why do some things catch on while others go unnoticed? There must be a general principle involved here, right? It’s not totally random, is it?
Perhaps we were born too soon, or too late, depending on how you look at it. The temptation would be to conclude that there is a rational process at work, and that items with superior quality are more likely to get noticed in the proverbial “marketplace of ideas.” However, our sophisticated in-depth research (i.e., five minutes spent online, anywhere) reveals that is not generally the case. It’s beyond things like cat videos and other oddities — some of what goes viral completely defies explanation or good taste or anything sane at all. For instance, we can admire the genius/horror of items such as this one:
The conundrum seems to churn along in one of two ways (or maybe it’s two different ways to get to one place?): (1) something might catch on if it’s so universal in its appeal, so generalizable to the experiences and attitudes of others, that most everyone can relate to it on some level; or (2) something might be so quirky and unique that it becomes utterly compelling, as with something you just don’t see everyday that breaks you out of the familiar. The gist here is that things will resonate if they are really general or really specific, but not if they’re somewhere in between. And if you try too hard to create something popular (universal or unique) you’ll get stuck in the middle:
Clearly, then, we are solidly in the in-between space of being generally too specific, or specifically too general, or not enough of either, or something! Lessons to consider, for sure, but hey, we have to be who we are: too earnest by half, not clever enough to be a bit less clever, and either too old-fashioned or way ahead of our time. You grok? If this sounds like you too, give us a holler. Maybe even retweet, repost, forward, like, upvote, or otherwise affirm this…. Who knows, maybe someday our generally unremarkable notions will go viral!
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