Cultural Snowballing Part 2 : How it Grew

(If you haven’t read the previous part, I suggest you do, though it isn’t necessary.)
One of the other problems that could be considered an effect of cultural snowballing is people’s tendency now to “tune out”. It seems like more people than ever are advocating “unplugging” from modern life, whatever that happens to mean to them in particular.

People’s attitudes have gotten worse toward people who use advertising (which seems absurd) and those who try to sell merchandise to support themselves. (strangely, people who just straight up beg for money on Kickstarter, Subbable, and Patreon seem to get much less of a negative reaction). This negatively affects entry into markets which require a lot more serious involvement. One of these is board gaming, which requires serious thought, space, setup, and a good amount of time devotion. I recently attempted a Kickstarter for a board game, and people (even though many people say they like the “little guy”) just aren’t willing to devote the money and the time to a game that was made by one person on a shoestring budget, because if it goes wrong, they’re out a lot, too. (That would’ve worked a few years ago maybe, and especially about a decade ago when platforms such as Kickstarter didn’t exist.) This isn’t helped by the fact that there is huge growth in the market (as there is in many markets: this is just one example) and more established companies are pushing out more and better new products, making entry much more difficult. People who could previously have played every new game every year are now faced with choices, and people generally don’t like more choices. But they do like some choices.

Remember when Myspace was really the only social network (of course there were others, but who’d really heard of them?) and then Facebook came along and everyone switched, and then for a moment it looked like new social networks were popping up and dying all over the place. It seemed like it would just be a cycle of never-ending account imports. But, by the time even Google+ rolled around, people were so tired of the choices no one even used it (people only use it now because of Youtube-based statistics jacking). People like choices, (Myspace and Facebook) but not too many choices (Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, etc.).

How in the world does that relate to cultural snowballing? Well, in essence it is cultural snowballing. And when confronted with a huge pile of board games or social networks, people do the same thing that they do with “‘The Maltese Falcon” and “The Searchers”: they forget about them. This makes things both easier and harder for the new. On the one hand, new things have a huge problem getting noticed over established giants that people already see, and people often don’t have the time to look at anything else. But on the other hand, if something new does get noticed, the world turns into a huge positive feedback loop as people forget about the old things and start noticing this crazy new thing.

Things just keep getting bigger and bigger. Even new things seem to come with the prerequisite of already being big before becoming super. If it’s already too much to take, where can it go from here? The first answer seems to come in the waves of culture that have become more the norm now. There are certain eras of culture that sometimes last a decade and sometimes a few weeks. These waves are surprisingly well illustrated by the recent ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. By my calculations, this challenge should have reached every human being in the United States in just under 18 days. Soon after that, everyone in the world would be doing it. But not everyone is. This particular challenge caught on, which so few things do. It ping-ponged around for just long enough to be picked up by some celebrities, who of course challenged other celebrities. Eventually the celebrities ran out of other celebrities to challenge, and since they had all done it everyone else was dying to do it. For several days I lived in fear that someone in the world would challenge me, not because I don’t want to support ALS, but because I don’t have the means to dump ice on my head nor the funds to donate to ALS research. Anyway, the math made my fate to look like a jerk on the internet inevitable, but strangely enough, no one challenged me. Things died down before ever getting to me. (this is except for several “community of thousands” challenges, which I think almost no one accepted.) This didn’t seem right, but it happened. People either got sick of it, just didn’t do it, or ran out of important people to challenge. And suddenly the unstoppable cultural juggernaut came slamming into a brick wall to be washed out and forgotten until people browse back through their Facebook feeds. (but ALS research did get MILLIONS of dollars from the thing, which is AMAZING!)

I am not qualified to provide answers for the mysteries of both how that got big and how it just stopped, but it is a speeded-up example of what I’m talking about. All of the things we’re expected to know in time run out of relevance (though this one didn’t,exactly-) and then we simply forget. The money dried up and the time people were willing to devote to it went down. Suddenly everyone’s lives are “normal” and something else big will come along. This has happened on a much larger and longer scale with other cultural things, like comic books, comic book movies, video games, vampires, zombies, etc. Now not each of those things pushed the others out, but they did push some other large cultural block out of the way to get where they are now. It just keeps happening.

Again, this might not be a problem. New people do need to get into the market (although the newspaper comics industry doesn’t want you to believe that). And the breaking of an old cultural snowball for a larger one seems a good way to do that. But, on the other hand, it could create a wide rift between people and success, and successful people and their fans.

Either way it looks like it’s here to stay and possibly speed up. So I’d just suggest you prepare for the avalanche.

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