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.