This is from Douglas Rushkoff who is known for his infecting marketing with the idea of viral marketing.
Observe yourself the next time you’re listening to a joke. You may start by listening to the joke for the humor – because you really want the belly laugh at the end. But chances are, a few sentences in, you will find yourself not only listening, but attempting to remember its whole sequence. You’ll do this tentatively at first, until you’ve decided whether or not it’s really a good joke. And if it is, you’ll commit the entire thing to memory – maybe even with a personalized variation, or a mental note to yourself to fix that racist part. This is because the joke is a gift – it’s a form of social currency that you’ll be able to take with you to the next party.
In this election season, we watched the debates in order to be able to talk about them with others. Having something to say about it and being able to connect it to other parts is a major motivation to watch. The fact the past year has been such a political mess, the opportunity to pick up on the next disaster was difficult to resist. Things went viral because it gave people something exciting to report to others.
Television in the 90s was like this. Everyone watched the same shows in order to be able to gather in groups to discuss. I rented and/or bought video games in part so I could talk about the secret areas or tricks I had found. Friends would talk about the bands they discovered.
Popular culture was viral well before the internet. We have just made it easier by being able share in real time rather than by gathering. I often watch sports events BECAUSE of being able to share the experience with others. Friends posting about a crazy game unknowingly get me to tune into it as well. Shows where everyone is talking about it probably get a good portion of their viewers because of others talking about it.
The Fear Of Missing Out is a powerful social motivator. To be relevant, one needs social currency. To get social currency, one needs to acquire chunks of social information (memes) to offer others. Or, maybe my personality depends on having social currency.
Gladwell described “Mavens are people who have a strong compulsion to help other consumers by helping them make informed decisions” in The Tipping Point. I can seen elements of being a Connector (lots and lots of acquaintances from different realms) and Salesmen (inducing others’ behavior). But the Maven is the one I claim and most strongly identify.