Sunday, March 16, 2014

Flocking and GroupTalk

I'm replaying this one 'cuz I think it makes an interesting point.

Whenever you group human beings, they tend to start speaking similarly. This "Grouptalk" tendency is the very core of human culture. It's our nature.

When I wrote for magazines and newspapers, I'd find myself unconsciously writing in the style of the publication's other writers (all of whom were doing likewise). Check out the letters section of any publication (or blog comments), and you'll notice a similar aping of tone by readers. It's the same in online communities; during Chowhound's early years many posters sounded uncannily like me. That's because I (to use a phrase which, itself, describes the dynamic) had "set the tone" for the community.

So it's not just that like-minded people flock. Just as often, flocks become like-minded.

This is a mostly useful process. Along with, obviously, tightening bonds in human communities, it allows effective new modes to "bubble up" and disseminate. But the problem is when genre cliches endlessly self-reinforce. Amateur food writers, like amateur sportscasters, nearly always emulate the worst of their genres. It was hell weeding out all the food writing cliches plied by the folks enlisted to write our "ChowNews" newsletters. Their Chowhound postings were all great, composed in easy, natural voices. But once they poised to do "real" food writing, it was as if they'd donned a turtleneck and clutched an oversized glass of sherry. "Do try the carbonara....", etc etc.

An extreme example of Grouptalk can be seen in eBay feedback. Eons ago, mega sellers started spitting out inane robo-feedback for their customers. You'd buy, like, a sink faucet and find yourself lauded as an "AAAA customer! An absolute delight! Smooth sailing all the way!!!!!!" But newbie users have started doing the same. How bizarre to see grandmothers with six lifetime transactions belch out feedback ala "Great Communication! Fast Pay! Terrific eBayer! A1+++++++++++++++"). However, it's completely normal. Like most human beings, they feel an irresistible urge to do things as they see the group doing them. That voice becomes their voice (at least while in that group).

And this helps explain why truly creative people are so often drug addicts, alcoholics and suicides. You can't swim against the current of human nature without serious consequences!

More postings about creativity

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