Phil Friedman

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Chasing the Trend: When Did We Abandon Individualism?

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THERE IS A WELL-WORN SAYING ABOUT POLITICIANS SEEING WHICH DIRECTION THE PARADE IS GOING... THEN RUNNING HARD TO GET TO THE HEAD OF THE LINE AND LEAD IT...


Preface: This series of somewhat self-indulgent literary and philosophical reflections began with "Social Media Is a Highway, Not a Destination", and is concluding with this installment. Links to the previous articles in the series will be found at the end of this post, should you be moved by this one to sample some of them. A compendium of all the installments will soon be available as a downloadable eBook.


To be a successful writer on social media, figure out what's trending, then riff off that ...

LinkedIn Executive Editor, Dan Roth in a post on Writing for LinkedIn

Until I read that admonishment from LI's executive editor, Dan Roth, I really hadn't a clue about creating popular content on social media, let alone anything that might go "viral" — notwithstanding that a runaway viral post is the wet dream of every writer on LinkedIn and other social media platforms.

There I was, an experienced professional non-fiction writer and editor, with nary an inkling of what it was that bred acceptance in digital publishing on social media. I had always in the past — in the world of print publishing — been exhorted by editors to find something "fresh" to write about, to develop a unique lead or hook for a given piece, to sniff out a new slant or spin on a topic. In other words, to create something different and new and individual.

So, you can understand, if not exactly pardon my naivete when I first came to digital publishing. For I understandably — at least, I think understandably — believed what had been drilled into me during my print publishing years applied in the digital world as well. Wrong!

Chasing the Trend: When Did We Abandon Individualism?LEARN TO ENGAGE B
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+ Improve the clarity of your "hough )

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+ Master the log'c of discussion. and lec:

 

BEET UNE LS Re Te MERE ety

 

ng abities
CER

 

oss Of your writing and communication

+ Acquire durcble technigues tha* bolster self confidence

 

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Sel NVR AdWhat Dan Roth's advice makes crystal clear to me is that originality — or if you prefer, individualism — was not, and is not valued in digital publishing, especially on social media. Rather what is important in web-based venues is popularity and trending. In other words, herd acceptance


As I pondered my experience as a user and independent writer on LinkedIn, I realized that never before had so many so little (different or individual) to say ...

On LinkedIn, I truly believe you could take fifty articles and throw them into a hat with the names of their fifty authors, mix them all up, then return articles chosen at random to the fifty authors... and it would be doubtful that any of those authors could tell whether the piece returned to them was written by them, or by someone else.

Well... perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration, but... only a wee bit. Certainly, I couldn't tell in the vast majority of cases who was writing what. And I'm a moderately experienced editor.

As to Danny Boy, he didn't seem to care a bit about whether he could tell or not, as he was obviously too busy sucking up to. and getting his photo taken with Oprah Winfrey, let alone pay any real attention to editorial quality.

Anyway, as far as I can tell,  the desire to chase the trend continues strong to this day:  For many more than a few users of social media, there is truth in numbers. The more people who think the same way, the more correct their collective opinion must be. And if a sufficiently large number of people believe the same thing, then it must be true. As though truth is disclosed in the results of a vote.


Somewhere along the way, it seems quality became identified with popularity.

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There is no escaping the fact that writing for maximum popularity means creating content for the lowest common denominator. Which, in turn, ensures an ongoing and relentless march to mediocrity.

All while a heart-racing herd mentality rages in the breasts of social media devotees, not only Millennials, but also Baby Boomers and Oldsters, as well.

I have to ask when did that happen? When Facebook arrived on the scene, encouraging users to chase "likes" and "friends"?  When Twitter followed and made the number of followers a metric of success?  When LinkedIn make
the indicators of accomplishment the number of "eyes" and level of virality an article generates? 

I really don't know. So, if you do, please let me know.


What I do know is that social media has become the Great Leveler... a place where the most important consideration is what the trend is,  that is, what everybody else is thinking... and, of course, liking.

What has also become critically important to so many is how others see them. Witness the oft referred to phenomenon of readers on social media exhibiting reluctance to be the first few to register a like, or make a comment on a given post.

The result is a relentless drive toward uniformity, the universal destination — when you chase The Trend.


Chasing the Trend: When Did We Abandon Individualism?LEARN TO ENGAGE B
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+ Improve the clarity of your "hough )

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+ Master the log'c of discussion. and lec:

 

BEET UNE LS Re Te MERE ety

 

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CER

 

oss Of your writing and communication

+ Acquire durcble technigues tha* bolster self confidence

 

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At one time, I believed that the surfeit of dreary uniformity and Insipidipity on social media was idiosyncratic to specific platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook. But now, I am not so sure about that.

My most recent experience on beBee is causing me to wonder whether such vapid uniformity isn't endemic to social media in general. Whereas the as yet still very young beBee displays enormous potential to distinguish itself from the others in virtue of its commitment to "Affinity Networking", the pressures to uniformity are already building.

Despite being a huge friend and early adopter of beBee USA, I have to say that, as the traffic on the Publisher increases, so do the numbers of uncomfortably similar articles. And as the more general traffic increases, so do the number of essentially identical inspirational memes, vacuous and generic pat-and-stroke comments, and posts that flirt with, but do not cross the line over into hard plagiarism. None of which bodes well for a platform that appeared initially to be celebrating individualism.

Hopefully, as beBee makes available to users a full and robust set of tools to fully implement Affinity Networking, the situation will be self-correcting...

For then, but only then will content of genuine substance and skillful creation be able to find an audience, and in so doing, fight its way to robust visibility. And only when we stop chasing the trend, will we return the individualism that was at one time considered so desirable.  If not on social media in general, at least on beBee.  — Phil Friedman


Author's Notes: 

This post is the tenth and final installment in a series of philosophical reflections which I've dubbed "The Road Chronicles" because they are organized around the metaphor of travel along a road. If you would like to read one or more of the previous installments of the series, they can be found at:

"LinkedIn Is a Highway, Not a Destination"

"Cynicism Can Be the Final Refuge of Idealism"

"Reaching Beyond Me"

"Do Not Mistake What Is For What Should Be"

"The Syndrome of the Long Goodby"

"Finding Your Way Past Self-Reflection to Action"

"Living in Third Person"

"Finding Your Way Around Self-Pity"

"Finding Your Way Back to Intelligence"

To receive the entire series as a downloadable eBook, connect with me on beBee.

If you'd  like to receive notifications of my writings on a regular basis, click the [FOLLOW] button on my beBee profile. As a writer-friend of mine says, you can always change your mind later.

Feel free to "like" and "share" this post and my other LinkedIn articles — whether on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or Google+, provided only that you credit me properly as the author, and include a live link to my original post.


About me, Phil FriedmanWith 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation. In a previous life, I taught logic and philosophy at university.


The (optional-to-read) pitch: As a professional writer, editor, university educator, and speaker, with more than 1,000 print and digital publications, I've recently launched an online program for enhancing your expository writing: learn2engage — With Confidence. My mission is to help writers and would-be writers improve the their thought and writing, master the logic of discussion, and strengthen their ability to deal with disagreement.


Chasing the Trend: When Did We Abandon Individualism?LEARN TO ENGAGE B
WITH CONFIDENCE

 

 

+ Improve the clarity of your "hough )

CECT Regie)

 
   

+ Master the log'c of discussion. and lec:

 

BEET UNE LS Re Te MERE ety

 

ng abities
CER

 

oss Of your writing and communication

+ Acquire durcble technigues tha* bolster self confidence

 

INTERACTIVE SMALL-GROUP WEBINARS or ONE-ON-ONE WEB SESSIONS

   

SSIONAL WRITER & EDITO
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PUBLICATIONS FR INT AN!
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To schedule an appointment for a free 1/2-hour consult email: info@learn2engage.org. I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Chasing the Trend: When Did We Abandon Individualism?LEARN TO ENGAGE B
WITH CONFIDENCE

 

 

+ Improve the clarity of your "hough )

CECT Regie)

 
   

+ Master the log'c of discussion. and lec:

 

BEET UNE LS Re Te MERE ety

 

ng abities
CER

 

oss Of your writing and communication

+ Acquire durcble technigues tha* bolster self confidence

 

INTERACTIVE SMALL-GROUP WEBINARS or ONE-ON-ONE WEB SESSIONS

   

SSIONAL WRITER & EDITO
MER UNIVERSITY P

PUBLICATIONS FR INT AN!
LOSOPHY AND LOGIC

   
        

Sel NVR Ad


Chasing the Trend: When Did We Abandon Individualism?LEARN TO ENGAGE B
WITH CONFIDENCE

 

 

+ Improve the clarity of your "hough )

CECT Regie)

 
   

+ Master the log'c of discussion. and lec:

 

BEET UNE LS Re Te MERE ety

 

ng abities
CER

 

oss Of your writing and communication

+ Acquire durcble technigues tha* bolster self confidence

 

INTERACTIVE SMALL-GROUP WEBINARS or ONE-ON-ONE WEB SESSIONS

   

SSIONAL WRITER & EDITO
MER UNIVERSITY P

PUBLICATIONS FR INT AN!
LOSOPHY AND LOGIC

   
        

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Comments

Milos Djukic

5 years ago #32

#45
Phil Friedman, for some reasons you are a golden bee in Fractals Forever hive :)

Milos Djukic

5 years ago #31

Good analysis Phil Friedman. There is no reason for joy, anyway, but some small improvement can be suggested through this discussion. The main role of social media and their effects are not too benevolent towards users. That's why I used to say: There is no "business" like social media visions and business. They are very powerful in every way. Since some kind of unity through diversity is what is needed (No-Borg model). It has to be comfortable and acceptable approach not for all, but for most of us. We can explore alternative approaches in self-expression. Many will continue to inclined towards single-mindedness and it is a legitimate right. But the free spirit usually awakens new thinking. Freedom of self-expression is worth fighting for, that is the essential meaning of the self - similarity concept. As we get older the desire for freedom is growing. When we are an authentic self-similar whole, only then a neutral equilibrium is possible. Cheers, anyway,!

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #30

#43
Aurorasa Sima. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #29

#44
Milos Djukic - Thank you for reading and commenting. And for the reference to Eric Fromm, which reference is particularly timely during this U.S. presidential election. Fromm was a "Social Democrat" (someone who believes in social ownership of the main means of production and wealth, combined with democratic political institutions and determination of government). And lo an behold, Bernie Sanders identifies himself as a "Social Democrat" in the same vein. Which may or may not be to the point, but which I submit is quite interesting nonetheless. Anyway, I agree that Fromm is relevant in the context of this article of mine, for as he says in "Mechanisms of Escape from Freedom", to which you point, "The automatization of the individual in modern society has increased the helplessness and insecurity of the average individual. Thus, he is ready to submit to new authorities which offer him security and relief from doubt." And this, my good friend, is precisely what social media is doing to us with its drive toward "automating" what we see and read, what we like, even the comments we make in public. Not to mention, generating the feeling that we need to be part of a crowd before we can not only do anything, but as well say anything. Indeed, it is not to overstate the case to say that we are seeing a drift away from even paying lip service to freedom and individuality, toward a state in which herd mentality is not only a fact, but a goal. Cheers! (If there is anything to be cheerful about.)

Milos Djukic

5 years ago #28

#34
Phil Friedman, These are passages from Chapter V of Fear from Freedom by Erich Fromm: http://www.panarchy.org/fromm/escapefreedom.html For someone even close shoes are more than perfect fit. It took me a long time to make peace with that fact. This is especially true in the case of a fear of irrelevance which is growing. The reasons are social and also skillfully determined by hopelessness and fear. Therefore, the fear from freedom is growing and unconditionally acceptance will become only solution for many. Fortunately, not all act like that. We are not judges, nor are they accused. And that is the true meaning of the term freedom.

Milos Djukic

5 years ago #27

Kudos Phil Friedman...

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #26

#39
@Mohammad Azam Khan - I agree that in some matters, individualism is not advisable. For example, having discovered the round wheel, it makes no sense to pursue individualism in terms of other shapes. However, that does not mean that improvements cannot be wrought in terms of materials, weights, hub design, tire design and the like. Thank you for reading and commenting. Cheers!

#35
Well stated Phil.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #24

#31
Yes, @Franci Eugenia Hoffman, we are in the midst of the age of go-along-to-get-along. A period of trying to see where the parade is going, in order to go with the flow. An era of... well, you get the idea. So much so, that at times I think we've lost the concept of individualism altogether. For example, be a young turk, wear torn jeans -- like the 150 million other people who do. Show your individualism -- by picking a pink iPhone instead of the more common gray one. And above all, check the internet reviews on a product before deciding whether you like it or not.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #23

#27
@David Grinberg - Of course, David, it makes "sense" to me; it's just that its wrong. :-) Just kidding, bud. Speaking seriously, the question of whether we, as a society and a culture, still value individuality is a question about groups as a whole. It is not about individuals. I would say, for example, that the intellectual ethos of LinkedIn users is one of lemming-like follow-along. Indeed, as I pointed out in the article, finding and attaching oneself to a "trend" is overtly recommended by LI Exec Editor Daniel Roth. That is the polar opposite from individualism, in my book. I believe that we on beBee -- ownership, management, staff, Ambassadors and users -- all need to work hard to keep the platform by beeing over-run by Borg-like bees, who are quickly forming into a collective of crowd mentality. Or beBee will end up as the same pile of bull chips as LinkedIn. Especially when it comes to intellectual exchange and growth individualism has no match. It is what free enterprise and entrepreneurship are to drab socialism. (Yes, David, I had to cover my Wobblies membership card in order to write that.:-) Cheers!

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #22

#28
Ah, David Grinberg, ever the backstopping political public relations honcho. Guess this means that you have no aspirations to working with the Trump campaign team, eh?

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #21

#19
@David Lisle - Very true. There will not be any form of "natural selection" in the "marketplace" until platform users (consumers) begin filtering out what they don't want to see constantly, and which gets in the way of that they do want to see and read. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Phil, your post brings to mind TV land. Have you noticed that if a new show airs, for example a talent show, then there are 5 more that pop up. Everyone wants to hop on the bandwagon. When I was more of a Linkie, I thought that if saw one more post on leadership populate in my feed, I was going to ignore anything and everything on LI. I believe some of those that like to write want to select a topic that appeals to an audience, rather than something that is within their field of expertise, or of a personal nature. Some people that like to write but are not necessarily writers, such as yourself. I believe this is acceptable and perhaps a major reason for the success of WordPress. WordPress gives you the freedom to write what you want, with the exception of plagiarism. I follow a blogger that posts a 2 or 3 line poem everyday. His work is clever and unique and I love it. We all have our likes and dislikes and personally, I'm not a fan of an abundance of shares, and I don't mean shares within beBee. I mean outside articles from Inc., etc, unless it relates to beBee or a bee such as Candice Galek. Photography and music are all I like to see. LinkedIn became inundated with shares from Yahoo, etc. and I quickly lost interest. Thank you for enlightening post Phil Phil Friedman.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #19

#26
@James Saelzler - That is an interesting hypothesis, and if empirically confirmed leads to some interesting further speculation. But if I were to speculate as to causal factors for the observed phenomenon, I'd bet that if a greater number of choices drives people to cluster around a fewer number of picks, it is precisely because people these days want to be part of a group that thinks as they do... and that they lack the raw instinct which drives some to be individualist bent on making their own judgements. Which is, I think, one of my points. Thank you for reading and commenting. Very, very interesting. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #18

#25
@Jennifer Schultz - thank you for reading and commenting. I think that, in the main, I agree with you. However, I have to point out that there are no "rules" for writing and blogging to be changed. I do agree that the landscape of publishing has changed, and that digital self-publishing has had the positive effect of making it possible for many more bright minds with good ideas and interesting opinions to be heard. But the negative side is that, because (as @Kevin Pashuk pointed out) social media get monetized based on level of user activity, social media platforms brainwash their users to think that they need to be writing and talking all the time -- even when they don't have anything substantive to say. Which is why we are inundated with trite "inspirational" memes, brainless info-graphics, all manner of inappropriately "curated" content, outright plagiarism, and such a high percentage of just plain bad writing that displays absolutely no thought. And it's why we also inundated with all manner of insipid, meaningless comments. Because so many are brought to believe that they need to be posting something, anything -- or they will be overlooked for a job or lost a contract or visited by the dark angel of digital death. A lot of people say that, if you don't have something good to say, don't say anything at all -- which I think is both vapid and wrong. What I say is that, if you don't have something meaningful to say, don't. Which does not apply to you remarks here, which are insightful to a major degree. Cheers!

David B. Grinberg

5 years ago #17

Clarification: please note below that my use of the term "postpartum depression" is meant as a metaphor to giving birth to a blog post, etc. I'm clarifying this in retrospect as I certainly have no intention of offending any women or judging their child bearing experiences.

David B. Grinberg

5 years ago #16

I really like all of your astute analysis and important insights, Phil Friedman. You are correct that social media, in general, can at time feel like an echo chamber. But this is not true ALL the time. And while many users cherish trending quantity over quality, with dreams of going viral, this situation should be viewed from on an individual, case-by-base basis -- especially since you are addressing individuality. Thus, in my humble view, if you've touched and inspired even a handful of people via blogging or otherwise of social media, then you have made a real difference in someone's life, a difference that might result in a life changing path. I've never been a big fan of blanket characterizations and stereotypes about anything really. This also applies to social media, which I view in a constant state of flux and evolution. And for the folks who do go viral and get their 15-minutes of fame, there's also the downside -- or postpartum depression -- when such popularity is short lived. Therefore, the perceived benefits of quantity over quality is really a 2-sided coin. However, how social media affects each person as an individual is a unique experience to that person. Does this rant make any sense?

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #15

#18
@Phillip Hubbell - Thank you for reading and commenting. I don't really think, though, that it is just a matter of semantics. The observable facts are that in recent years there has been an increasing endorsement of crowd-sourced opinion. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #14

#20
@Kevin Pashuk - I like the cancer metaphor here, when it comes to group-think. Thanks, Kevin, for reading and commenting.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #13

Well, @Randy Kehoe, I do not worry about you. For to my mind, you are one of a kind. Cheers!

Kevin Pashuk

5 years ago #12

#18
There are tomes of information available on 'group think' and its power in society. We naturally self select to tribes, but those that surrender their thinking and conscience to the tribe 'group think' are generally (and I say this carefully) dangerous at worst, and just benign at best.

Randy Keho

5 years ago #11

Individualism, as in music and fashion, has become an illusion. Individualism is viewed as rebellion. Perhaps, we need a flag or a banner to wave. The confederate states of beBee. Let your freak flag fly.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #10

#14
Alan Geller - Yes, Kemosabe, some few are different. Which is something to keep in mind when surrounded by the dominant tribe. Perhaps, we should lay low until After Dark, eh?

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #9

#11
Nicole Chardenet need to ensure that everyone has a chance to be read and heard. Then the keepers of the various hives will become the "critics" who gain or fail to gain followings based on how appealing their respective content streams are to the audience. And of corse, individual writers will develop their own respective readerships, provided that beBee management prevents spammed noise from drowning out any meaningful conversation. Thank you for a hall-of-fame level comment. Cheers!

Jim Murray

5 years ago #8

#11
Nicole Chardenet: That's a really good point. This is part of the reason why we created The Beezers Hive. In a way the four of us are acting as an informal editorial board, since we are all professional writers. We pick the stuff we think has the best quality of thought. I guess some will accuse us of being elitist and that's OK. I guess we are. But maybe that's part of what's needed in social media.

Jim Murray

5 years ago #7

You're right. Insipidy is the new beige. The trouble with it is that most of the people who create it really think they're onto something. Maybe it's all their intellects can handle. Maybe they got dropped on their heads when they were kids. Maybe they have an obsession with Tony Robbins and this he's the reincarnation of Gandhi. Who the hell knows. All you can do is what you can do. We can do the best we can and hope it elevates them somehow. It's all up to the Beezers now. Sadly, however, there are only a dozen or so of us.

Jim Murray

5 years ago #6

You're right. Insipidy is the new beige. The trouble with it is that most of the people who create it really think they're onto something. Maybe it's all their intellects can handle. Maybe they got dropped on their heads when they were kids. Maybe they have an obsession with Tony Robbins and this he's the reincarnation of Gandhi. Who the hell knows. All you can do is what you can do. We can do the best we can and hope it's elevates them somehow. It's all the Beezers now.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #5

#7
@Gerald Hecht - In the Land of Burgers, a flank steak is king. Keep your charcoal briquettes dry, Bud. :-)

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #4

#5
You know, @Brian McKenzie, I agree with you... I think.

Kevin Pashuk

5 years ago #3

#3
Perhaps we could work the phrase "Insipidity is the new smoking" into our language to help change the ethos...

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #2

#1
@Kevin Pashuk - I agree with you on several points. Especially on the point about the prime metric for monetization of a platform being number of clicks and users. And I agree, as I said in the piece, that using the tools (when available) of Affinity Networking will create a natural selection process (which, admittedly, may not go as you and I would want it to) that Keeps Insipidipity to a minimum. However, I also believe that the situation could be improved immensely by the development of an ethos of quality and substance. Of course, such would require strong cooperative efforts from not only beBee management, but from its Ambassadors and strong users, as well. Thank you for reading and commenting. Cheers!

Kevin Pashuk

5 years ago #1

Enjoyed the post Phil Friedman. As a musician, who on occasionally has written a song, I see a lot of parallels between writing for Social Media and writing music for airplay. I grew up buying the vinyl that is now "Classic Rock". There was a whole generation of bright minds bending the rules and doing something 'different', sometimes (as in Pink Floyd) had to invent technology to get the sound they wanted. The vast majority of what I hear on the radio these days is overproduced, cookie cutter diddies. Thanks to my son, I'm discovering a cadre of independent 'artists' in the truest sense of the word, so I haven't given up hope for this generation, but there are a lot of diddies to filter out. If your goal is to get 'Likes', then as Brian McKenzie indicated you can always add a Cat meme and increase the action. I'm not sure we can get truly away from this as long as the metric for success (and hence monetization) of a platform revolves around the number of hits a particular post gets. As with my music, I find that while beBee is now being flooded with reposts of other articles, reposts of Pinterest images (without citation which does stick a bit in my craw) and the occasional cat meme. As with the radio in my car, I can tune out those channels (or hives) and make sure I'm connecting with the 'free range' thinkers who are producing some great original content.

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