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Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age$
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Alberto Acerbi

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198835943

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198835943.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2020. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 23 October 2020

Popularity

Popularity

Chapter:
(p.71) 4 Popularity
Source:
Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age
Author(s):

Alberto Acerbi

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780198835943.003.0004

The tendency to copy the majority is the topic of the fourth chapter. The fact that online popularity produces long-tailed distributions is often presented as an argument to show the power of online social influence. However, long-tailed distributions are a trademark of many cultural domains, from first names to dog breeds. In addition, these distributions do not necessarily imply the existence of an individual-level tendency to prefer popular things, but they can be the result of bare availability: the more examples of an item, the more likely we will encounter it, and the more likely we will become interested in it. Conformity is next considered: as defined in cultural evolution, conformity implies an effective tendency to copy the majority. As for celebrities, various experiments are reviewed, and the author defends a view for which conformity is far from automatic, as it interacts with many other psychological tendencies. How digital technologies permit radically new forms of popularity advertisements, from the real-time quantification of “likes” in social media to the explosion of consumer reviews, or top-lists of virtually everything, is also examined and discussed in relation to cultural evolution theory.

Keywords:   long-tailed distributions, random copying, conformity, availability, online popularity, online reviews

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