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Opt-ions Six

The second to last post dissecting our relationship to the greater blogosphere and social media community.


Image: Ali T via Flickr

Popularity is a comparative term, and we all crave it for different reasons.  Sure, you may say that you don’t care if you’re popular, but of course you do, even if it’s only popularity within your small, inner circle.  No one wants to be unpopular.  I mean… just think of the company you keep in the unpopular category.  Unfortunately (or fortunately?), most of us will never achieve widespread popularity and will instead have to settle for a low-level popularity or non-popularity.

In most places in life, I’m non-popular, so it’s a familiar, comfortable spot.  For instance, I was non-popular in high school.  I certainly wasn’t popular — that is clear since people from high school rarely remember me — but I also wasn’t unpopular — no one tormented me.  I was just non-popular.

It is easy to be non-popular as much as it is annoying to be non-popular.  I mean, if you’re striving for popularity, you obviously haven’t reached it if you’re still non-popular.  BUT it is easy to be non-popular because you are (1) usually left alone, (2) don’t have to deal with the stress of being popular, and (3) don’t have to chase the bar of popularity since you’re not really in the race.  Popularity is an always moving bar, subject to your own perspective.  A case in point: you may see me as popular whereas I may see myself as non-popular.  And we’ll just have to agree to disagree since popularity is like the most subjective-y subjective thing ever.

So no one wants to be unpopular since being unpopular is akin to being unliked.  Brussels sprouts, for instance, are unpopular with kids.  If you Google, “unpopular vegetable,” they come up as the first image.  So, no one wants to be unpopular and Brussels sprout-y*, and yet, simply by existing in the world and coming into contact with other human beings — online and offline — we find ourselves, at times, decidedly unpopular.  Unliked.  Or, if it’s not ourselves being unliked, it’s our opinion or our blog post or our word choice.  And those times of being unliked are about twenty times louder than an equal amount of time being liked or a non-entity.  We can usually wrap our mind around being non-popular, but it is very hard to sit with the feeling of being unpopular.

Ever receive ten positive comments and one negative one?  Which one(s) sticks with you the rest of the day?  Do you bask in the ten, or do you worry about the one?

I worry about the one.

Because no one wants to be known if it means being unpopular.  I mean, better to not be recognized, not be known, than be known as someone with terrible ideas or a whiny personality or… whatever negative traits people toss your way.  And really, sometimes, with the way we build people up and then tear them down, it is a scary thing to be popular knowing how quickly you’ll descend to unpopularity with one wrong move.  Whereas the non-popular generally get to remain quietly non-popular.

In the book I’m reading, the main character sums up the whole reason why we want to be popular, we want to be known, we want to be cherished, and it call comes down to permanence and our cognition that we won’t be on this planet for very long:

Most people would trade everything they know — everyone they know — they’d trade it all to know they’ve been seen, and acknowledged, that they might even be remembered.  We all know we die.  We all know the world is too big for us to be significant.  So all we have is the hope of being seen, or heard, even for a moment.

When we say we want to be acknowledged, to have our opinion be heard and count; when we say that we want to make a difference, we are talking about all of that in positive terms.  I mean, no one goes around saying, “I just want to have a negative impact on this world.  I want to make people miserable and be remembered forever as a bastard.”  No, when we say we want to make a difference, we want to make a positive difference.  When we say we want to be acknowledged, we don’t want someone to use our comment section to say, “I heard you… AND YOU’RE TOTALLY WRONG.”  What we mean is that we want… well… popularity, which means simply, “regarded with favour, approval, or affection.”

Most of us don’t want to take over the whole Internet and become a household name.  We just want to be regarded with favour, approval, or affection.  Not such a big thing to ask.  But striving for it, especially when you see other people achieving it, is humbling… sometimes demoralizing… other times confusing… and every once in a while, the road to achieving it ourselves.

What guidelines do you use to define popularity, and do you believe that all attention is good since it is still attention?  Would you rather be non-popular than known but struggling against the backlash that often accompanies the attention of popularity?

* I happen to like Brussels sprouts.


1 a { 06.29.14 at 8:25 am }

I am not particularly fond of being unpopular, although if I do stick my head out of the ground, it’s usually to point out a problem that needs to be addressed. I am not particularly fond of being popular, because that has a set of work requirements I’m unwilling to meet. I live to be non-popular. I fly under the radar as much as possible – even at home.

I see how the idea of having mass approval is appealing, and of course, I enjoy it when a group tells me that my ideas are good. I used to get angry when people would take my ideas and call them their own. But I’ve realized that in the end, it works better that way because I don’t like attention. I’m a background person.

2 nicoleandmaggie { 06.29.14 at 9:26 am }

Well, I went from being unpopular in regular school to non-popular in boarding school (#2 on the blog went from unpopular to popular, if you’re going by who remembers who at reunions) to having a small amount of popularity nearing the end of college. Of those, I think I liked non-popular best.

Of course, with my work I’m always thrilled when I get a sign of professional popularity, but with work that popularity means that my job is easier– easier to get published, easier to get money, easier for people to know and cite my work. Unpopular is something I deeply want to avoid with work because nobody wants to be John Lott, except maybe John Lott (economist infamous for [allegedly] falsifying data to make pro-gun arguments).

With our blog our stated goal is to be famous on the internet. But we also don’t particularly want to attract trolls. So… moderately famous.

3 Cristy { 06.29.14 at 10:22 am }

This is an interesting post, calling out a lot of obvious things many of us would prefer not to admit. I don’t like the fact that I am influenced by others perceptions of me. It seems so vain. But, you are right. Popularity and striving for recognition does influence all of us. I think especially those who protest too much.

So here’s my question: what’s you take in slander? When someone actively attacks someone else, using their popularity to influence others’ opinions? We see this all the time. What does this day about all parties involved?

4 Mel { 06.29.14 at 10:50 am }

That’s interesting, Cristy. I would say that (1) I’d always be careful to assign motivation to someone else’s actions. Could they be using their popularity to influence opinions? Sure. But could they also have a very different view of their popularity, knowing information that others do not? Yes. And could their motivation be that they felt wronged by the person they’re attacking, therefore they see themselves in the defensive rather than offensive position? Yes. So… that’s where I would start.

But let’s say you could get inside the person’s brain for a moment and see clearly why they’re doing what they’re doing: it’s a huge abuse of power. I mean, we gave them that power, so we only have ourselves to blame. But take celebrities who spread dangerous health advice that runs counter to what doctors support. (You know, those people who actually have medical degrees.) Do they have a responsibility to the public (the people who gave them that power) to support popular opinion. Or should they always follow their own heart and state what they believe?

5 Valery Valentina { 06.29.14 at 2:57 pm }

mhm… I rather have 1 comment from someone I know then your 10+1

So for me the bit you quote wouldn’t work. What do I have left if I trade everyone I know? The knowledge that before the trade they knew me too?
Maybe I’m not most people, but I’m OK with that.

6 A. { 06.29.14 at 3:05 pm }

I can tell you that my visibility just as a teacher makes me uncomfortable, and the fact that my name gets thrown around by kids on FB or by parents in the PTA or at Saturday barbecues when people realize they have me in common creates a desire for ‘popularity’ that I’m not sure would matter to me otherwise. For obvious reason, I would prefer people say good things or nothing at all. Example: I had to take a short medical leave last year for IVF purposes, and a bunch of 8th graders circulated a rumor that I was suspended; that rumor then resurfaced this year, passed from a 9th grader to a 7th grader and given new life. I would take the anonymity if I could because there would be no risk of finding myself mired in infamy, a reputation spotted with stories that have a life of their own and exist outside of my control.

7 knottedfingers { 06.29.14 at 5:29 pm }

I’m very ambivalent to popularity. But that’s because I never have had it so I don’t really care for it. I’m happy that anyone decides to leave comments. I rarely get any comments so I appreciate the good far far over the bad.

Not everyone is going to like you, that’s just life.

I will say I get uncomfortable when I get a sudden influx on my blog. I’m working on it though, especially since I’ve started my resources and blogroll lol

8 Lori Lavender Luz { 06.29.14 at 9:08 pm }

I love brussel sprouts. Yum!

I have been nonpopular most of my life. It bothered me horribly in my teens and 20s; I never even tried to be popular because it seemed impossible. My station in life was to be nonpopular and unnoticed.

Over hte years it has bothered me less and less.

I wouldn’t mind being popular (whatever that means in a grown-up life) but not at the expense of how well I like and respect myself.

9 Catwoman73 { 06.30.14 at 8:50 am }

I bask in my non-popularity. I have no desire to be popular in the traditional sense of the word. One of my favourite party activities is to sit quietly, drink in hand, and watch the ‘popular’ people flitting about, trying to connect with everyone, seeking approval from all… It looks exhausting.

I suppose I strive for connection rather than popularity. I am very content having a handful of people in my life whom I know well and love, and who know and love me unconditionally. But maybe, to me, that IS being popular, and perhaps that is why I am so content in my anonymity- because within my social circle, I am popular. Interesting to think about.

Incidentally, I love brussel sprouts, and in certain situations, am happy to be unpopular. A work, I often have to do or say things that make me unpopular with certain groups. That’s completely fine with me- I do what I do because it’s my job to make tough decisions and question people. I have a very thick skin at work that doesn’t exist in other aspects of my life.

10 andy { 06.30.14 at 9:29 am }

I’ve never really given much thought to how I would define popularity, outside of say famous people being popular – well known, recognized etc.. I do love the term non-popular. I would say it pretty much sums me up.

11 Mali { 07.01.14 at 7:19 pm }

Even the use of the word “popular” gives me the creeps. Perhaps because it comes from years (decades) of watching US TV programmes and movies which seem to make a big deal of being in the “popular” group (even though they always seem to be unkind and not too bright). I’m not sure that here in NZ we have the same emphasis on “popular.” But I haven’t spent enough time in the US to know if my TV/movie viewing has coloured my perception.

One of the things I love about being older is that my desire to fit in has been replaced by my desire, as Lori has just said, to like and respect myself, to stick up for my opinions and values. Not that I like confrontation. Yes, that one negative comment always gets me.

But when I think about it, I was raised as a girl to be polite and quiet. To fly under the radar. And if that equates to “nonpopular” then I guess that is me too. I certainly don’t see it as a numbers game (I’d prefer to have a small group of close friends than a large group of friendly acquaintances, for eg), and certainly wouldn’t give up “everything I know — everyone I know” for popularity, because let’s face it, how many popular people are showing their true selves? So to be seen as a fake? Well, what good does that do?

Hmmmm, great post … you’ve got me thinking …

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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