Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Social Proof is Overrated

"Social media scientist" Dan Zarrella has done some interesting work to help dispel the notion that social proof is the be-all and end-all 

Whether it is or isn't, social proof is entirely overrated, if you set aside worries about Web 2.0.

Here are five arguments against the wisdom of social proof, drawn from history:

  • In 2008, the citizens of Riviera Beach, Florida, approved a referendum that outlawed the wearing of saggy pants in public.  The vote in favor was overwhelming.  That same year, a local judge ruled the law unconstitutional.
  • In 1941, the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chose How Green Was My Valley over Citizen Kane for Best Picture of the Year.  Today, Citizen Kane is generally considered the greatest film ever made by an American.
  • In 1825, the accepted remedy for nearly every ailment in America was mercury, which is poisonous.  For years, tourists from abroad returned home to report that all Americans were lazy and walked funny.
  • In 1636, speculation in tulip bulbs by the Dutch drove the price of rare bulbs to a figure equalling six times the average worker's yearly wage.  Today, a tulip bulb retails for about 70 cents.
  • In 33, a crowd in Jerusalem chose to commute the death sentence of the thief Barabbas over that of Jesus Christ. You know the rest of the story.
Accepting society's blessing may be no blessing at all.  Crowds can be nitwitted.

It's often better to blaze your own path, even though it's hard work.  As Nietzsche said, "The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe."
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