Contagious: Chapters 3 & 4

What is a counter example to "products or ideas must be public to be shared"?

In chapters 3 and 4, Berger talks about the emotional response that facilitates sharing of information, products, and ideas. Contrary to what one might assume, positive emotions don't elicit a higher rate of sharing than negative ones. Rather, the depth of the emotion is what matters; those with strong “arousal” factors are more frequently talked about that those, even positive ones, that inspire less intense responses.

In the next chapter, Berger talks about the public aspect of sharing. Herd mentality has proven time and again to influence purchasing decisions, as well as the adoption of intangible ideas, as in the example of MBA students' career plans. We use the behavior of others as a cognitive shortcut, and this makes sense. We simply don't have the time to evaluate every product that comes our way, and if dozens of others have already done it and decided it was a worthwhile investment, why would we decide any differently? Of course, this can reach a point where we do what we do merely because we saw someone else doing it, as opposed to having an established interest in a good or product and picking the most popular one from there. Berger continually stresses this potential aspect of the "public" principle. He closes the chapter by saying, “'Monkey see, monkey do’ captures more than just our tendency to follow others. If people can’t see what others are doing, they can’t imitate them. So to get our products and ideas to become popular we need to make them more publicly observable.”

But Berger himself offers counterexamples in the opening chapter of his book. Businesses that are popular for their exclusivity are by nature not public, but still socially valuable to know and are still shared. Places like Please Don't Tell aren't flashily advertised on t-shirts or other products. The social pressure of everyone else going there isn't what draws customers. Rather, the attraction lies in the fact that so few people have been able to go. This is also true of websites discussed in class, such as RueLaLa, which operate on a flash sale or membership basis. If something isn't popular because it is public, it can still be popular by constructing a false scarcity.

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