The book, which I highly recommend and can be purchased here, lays out Godin’s observations about how the death of our mass culture has led to the rise of what he defines as its opposite – the “weird.”
Basically, it’s an argument that everything in our society (business, education, culture, etc.) has been designed to work in a world where people were motivated to become a part of the mass – to be “normal” – despite that being against human nature.
As Godin explains, “The factory came first. It led to the mass market. Not the other way around.”
“Mass is about the center, the big, fat, juicy addressable center. Governments and marketers and teachers have organized around servicing and profiting from mass. And now, the center is melting.”
The reason mass is melting is because new technology has allowed people to connect with others who share their own specific niche interests and to create their own unique communities, splintering from the mass.
Suddenly, everybody’s more comfortable being “weird” because they can find and connect with others who live the same kind of weird that they do.
“It’s easier than ever to reach particular pockets of weird people with stuff they’re obsessed with. That makes it far easier to be obsessed, because marketers are willing to go along with your desires, instead of forcing you to do only what they want.”
The problem with this is that our society and industry is not remotely equipped for this societal shift. The book shares some eye opening numbers to illustrate how drastic the shift has been:
“In the lifetime of a typical 30-year-old American, she has seen the market share (the number of eyeballs watching) of the big three TV networks go from 90% to less than 30%. In one generation. Pop record sales have gone from a million copies a week to just 43,000 in 20 years. More choice, less mass.”
He goes on to point out the degree to which this is destroying the advertising industry, which represents the epitome of mass-driven business:
“All the non-advertising parts of [Omnicom], all the publicity, promotional and service components, has grown from 11% to nearly 60% of the company’s revenue in less than 15 years. That’s right, more than half the revenue at the second largest ad agency in the world comes from activities that aren’t mass advertising. Game over.”
Godin also then drops a TV reference that really puts it in perspective when he reveals that 15 times as many people used to watch Jed Clampett as watch Don Draper.
But this shift to the weird isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Godin suggests that the impact of our new “weird” world could be beneficial to many.
“Consider the tragic case of Van Gogh. He sold only one painting in his lifetime, and he lived in isolation, sure that his work was being (and always would be) shunned. Imagine the impact on his life and art if he had been connected to a burgeoning circle of fans and fellow artists.”
Godin also shares some interesting thoughts from Cory Doctorow about what actually made Napster so popular in the first place:
“Why did Napster captivate so many of us? Not because it could get us the top-40 tracks that we could hear just by snapping on the radio: it was because 80% of the music ever recorded wasn’t available for sale anywhere in the world, and in that 80% were all the songs that had ever touched us, all the earworms that had been lodged in our hindbrains, all the stuff that made us smile when we heard it”
And he even suggests that the few things that still do attract mass audiences, do so in part out of nostalgia for a bygone mass era.
“We watch the Super Bowl, not so much for the game as to remind us what it was like when all we did was what everyone else was doing.”
The book is more focused on illustrating these changes than solving them, but Godin does touch a little bit on how he thinks we should adapt our educational system to fit the skills needed for our “weird” world.
“My proposed solution is simple: don’t waste a lot of time and money pushing kids in directions they don’t want to go. Instead, find out what weirdness they excel at and encourage them to do that. Then get out of the way.”
Personally, I couldn’t agree more.
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