Oh God. I Must Be Old. I Don’t Care About Viral Trends. Help Me

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  • The Mannequin Challenge is the latest viral phenomenon. #MannequinChallenge has been tweeted more than 3.5 million times in the last week.
  • Young people become obsessed with viral content because they are trying to fit in with the pack and find their place in the social circle.
  • Past the age of 30, when we already know our place socially, and are more comfortable by ourselves, we no longer feel the need to follow the trends and therefore are less likely to tweet trending hashtags and share viral posts.

 

The ”Mannequin Challenge” is the latest viral trend to spread over the internet. And like “The Dress” and the “ALS Challenge”, it’s got millions of people the world over doing it, like an army of sheep-like clones playing “Simon Says”.

The Mannequin Challenge is simple. One person, or a group of people, freeze in a certain pose while another person takes a video of this frozen scene. It’s utterly pointless, of course, as most viral trends are, but nevertheless, 3.5 million people have tweeted using the hashtag “Mannequin Challenge” over the past week.

The Mannequin Challenge has become so, er-hmmm, “news worthy”, that it is even featured on TIME right now. TIME, the magazine that once considered the publication of the intellectually elevated, an important source of news and opinion, is now obsessing over how Beyonce just did the Mannequin Challenge.

So I might be standing all alone in the cold dark night as I say this, but…

I don’t actually care about the latest viral trends. And I don’t care about the Mannequin Challenge.

The internet is a supremely powerful tool that connects people around the world. Twitter, that near-futuristic device for immediately reading news headlines from friends, celebrities, and publications, continually tells us what is “trending”. And right now, Mannequin Challenge is one of the top trends.

Of course, Mannequin Challenge is far from the worst hashtag to trend. Over the years we’ve seen the likes of:

#JustSaying: When you say something that is obviously shockingly offensive and end it with #justsaying.

#Sandy: Hurricane Sandy impact the lives of millions when it struck in 2012. But retail outlets used the hashtag to promote their stores. GAP tweeted, “Hope everyone affected by #Sandy stays safe. I’ll be doing lots of shopping at the GAP store today. How about you?” Er… go to hell…?

#Susanalbumparty:  When Susan Boil released her debut album, her record label decided to market it using the hashtag #susanalbumparty. The innocent amongst us might read that as “Susan’s Album Party”. But the world read it as “Su’s Anal Bum Party.” Someone better grab the Vaseline.

Throughout history, we’ve loved getting whipped up into an obsessive frenzy over all sorts of trends. From tulips to the Kardashians to Beatle-mania, we’ve always had trends to follow and to obsess over. But since the rise of social media with gone coocoo crazy.

Trends come out of nowhere. Perhaps I’m an internet noob (unlikely, given I run four blogs), but the first time I heard about the Mannequin Challenge was earlier today, one week since the trend went viral. The Mannequin Challenge hashtag hit like a tsunami.

Science says that we get wrapped up in viral trends because they make us feel connected to other people. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs tells us that belonging is one of the most important of all human needs. We need to feel as though we are connected to other people.

When we share viral content, and when we use a hashtag like #MannequinChallenge, it’s because we want to feel connected. In other words, we use the hashtag because other people used the hashtag and we want to be part of the group.

This explains why hashtags can be popular even when they’re entirely pointless. Any hashtag or viral post that manages to get popular in the first place will continue to get shared, because people want to feel like they’re part of the group that’s doing the sharing. And that’s why young people get far more wrapped up in viral trends than younger people.

When we are young we are still finding our place in the world, and especially our place in the social world. We go and smoke that cigarette in the school toilet with the “cool kids” because maybe we fit in with them. But then we sit in the library studying for hours one day because, hey, maybe we’re actually the studious ones. Or we suddenly become obsessed with football because we just might be jocks.

When we’re young, we’re looking for our place socially and so we follow the crowds, wondering just which group we belong in. Part of following the crowd, these days, is online. It’s using the popular hashtags and sharing the popular posts because we want to fit in.

Older, more mature people don’t have that problem. They’ve been in all the cliques already and, honestly, they’re often happier by themselves anyway. Why do they need to bother following the crowds? Why do they need to use that trending hashtag? They don’t. They’ve absolutely no interest in it, because they’re not trying to fit in with the crowds.

And so this is all comes down to the question we asked in the beginning.

If you don’t care about viral trends, is it because you’re too old?

Yes. You are gloriously old. And you no longer need to follow the crowds. Rejoice in your oldness, you grey-haired wonder, you.

 

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