The Power of Popularity

How many decisions do you make based on popular vote? Has it ever backfired on you? Yesterday got me thinking about it. Here’s how it went down.

It’s the start of summer, pretty warm, so we decided to go out for snowballs. Have you had those? They’re a popular summer treat in Maryland; essentially crushed ice in a cup, covered in flavored syrup. I have many great memories of getting snowballs as a kid and now, take my kids for them once in a while.

Since moving back here, I’ve been hearing about this “AMAZING snowball stand”, “BETTER than anything you’ve ever had”, “you HAVE to go there”. Finally, after years (literally years) of this, I decided to drive an extra 20 minutes out of my way to check it out with my family.

We got there and the line had 22 people in it. (My son conveniently counted them and then loudly announced, “Wow, I didn’t know adults liked snowballs so much!”)

Me either buddy, me either.

Anyway, after waiting a really long time, we ordered the most popular flavors.

I was pretty pumped. Wow, all this time, all these people have been telling me how these snowballs are the best thing in the whole entire world. These are going to be incredible.

But guess what, they weren’t.  In fact, they weren't good at all. I could've hammered some ice and put it in a cup with some sugar and water and it would've been better.

I couldn’t believe it. These are the amazing, incredible snowballs I’ve been hearing about? These were the snowballs all these people were lined up for, the ones I drove 20 minutes out of my way for, and couldn't wait to have? No way.

The little snowball stand in the neighborhood I grew up, that never had a line of 22 people, and has no reputation has wayyyyy better snowballs than this place.

Popularity is funny because once something is popular, people just kind of go with it.

It reminds me of one of my favorite terms, “sheeple”. Sheep just follow the sheep in front of them. If you put a stick out for sheep to jump over, they’ll jump over it because the sheep in front jumped over it. Then if you take the stick away, the sheep will keep jumping just because the one before it jumped. People seem to do something similar. Sheep + People = Sheeple.

I mean, how much more special was the High School Homecoming King/Queen than anyone else? In reality, someone just decided to elevate this person in popularity and it caught on.

Is a restaurant/vacation destination/car/store/brand really that much better than other restaurants or do we just think so because other people told us?

Are you more likely to “like” something, on facebook or otherwise, because your friend did?

I mean, I know it’s natural to follow what someone else recommends to some degree because it seems easier than taking the risk and trying something new.

But what are we missing out on by doing so?

Maybe that quiet kid in the middle row of High School was in fact much more cool than the quarterback of the football team. And maybe that empty, little hole in the wall Mexican place has better tacos than anyone.

Have you ever found yourself disappointed after following the crowd? I’d love to hear all about it on facebook or twitter!

Let’s all make a pact to not be sheeple, not follow the crowd, and discover the hidden gems in our lives.