Tools of Popularity
The lever is a simple tool. Given one long and strong enough (plus a place to stand), Archimedes said he could move the earth. The computer is humanity’s most complex tool. It doesn’t need much to move the world.
A lever, being a simple tool, does only one thing; a computer can do anything. It leverages, multiplies, exponentiates—our vocabulary can’t adequately describe its power. Like an explosion, its effects are seen clearly only in the aftermath.
The power of the computer has taken what is popular—what other people want—and elevated it to god-like status. Popularity, massaged by the computer’s digits, is not merely a dictate, like its better-dressed cousin, fashion. It is the great decider, the final arbiter, and the ultimate gatekeeper. As such, it excludes everything not popular. By obscuring things of insufficient interest, the rule of the popular limits our choices to the shallow end of the information pool—where everyone feels safe.
Google may tell us most people want what most people want. Certainly, most of us thought so in high school. Especially those voted “most popular.” The rest of us are still considered “out,” like the data invisible to popular search engines.
Popular means “in,” and where there is “in” there is “out.” Where there is fashion there is also out-of-fashion. Once a thing’s popularity is past, it is often relegated to the dust-bin of history (a phrase itself from said dust-bin). No longer popular means lost to history, even for things worth preserving.
The height of fashion is full of once very popular one-hit wonders. Now they are valued more for their curiosity than their quality. If you’re looking for any value in what’s popular, consider this: more people vote for American Idol than for an American President.