Friday, February 3, 2012

In Defence of Popularity

This should be a short one, because, for once, the point I'm making isn't that complicated.

When I posted a status intended to encourage debate on facebook, I had a short argument with somebody (mercifully not on the status itself) over whether I was trying to win a 'popularity contest' of sorts with the status. I wasn't, not by any means, but I did think about it later - if the status was unpopular and therefore ignored, it wouldn't serve its intended function (to start a debate) now would it?

Those of you who knew me in high school wouldn't exactly refer to me as 'popular'. And by no means did I want to be - popularity in high school would have required championing ignorance as a virtue. (I'll make another post exploring this one of these days). However, I have a much more solid friend group at university, and even a fairly wide aquaintance group, and I've clearly expanded on my popularity. However, I haven't done so nearly as much as certain others - who by virtue of their large numbers of weak ties between people, they are better networkers. Simply, popularity then is not so much about your strong ties (close friends, family etc.) but more about your weak ties, and how you handle acquaintanceship. Nobody who was ever successful became that way alone. While successful people certainly can be said to have had skill and worked hard for their success, there are just as many, if not far more others that have the same skill and work ethic, but they lack the third item necessary - luck. And the more connected people are, the more luck they can have, simply because there are more people to provide opportunities for them. (Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell for a lot of this).

Returning to my orignial point, people who are popular have more opportunity to show that they are hardworking and skillful than equally skillful and hardworking people that don't have an audience. Having an audience IS important. And that's why we need the internet - it makes every person connected to it a potential audience member. Communication can happen on a level like never before. Physical borders and distance are irrelevant. For people that don't have an audience, their ideas often don't get discussed and improved , because nobody is listening.In this way, we lose out on a lot of potential ideas in the world.

So then, find an audience, if you can. Become popular, but never sacrifice who you are to do so. Popularity is just ONE of the important things. If you find yourself changing who you are to suit other people, you need to find some new friends. Listen to other people and be a critical, engaging and kind audience for them, and they will (hopefully) return the favour. Let the intelligence and sincerity of your words attract people, rather than any social coercive method. THAT is the kind of popularity we could all use.

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