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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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(p.71) 4 Popularity
Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age

Alberto Acerbi

Oxford University Press

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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