(ORDO NEWS) — Is it possible to describe the life cycle of any cultural innovation, be it a technology, an idea, or an internet meme?
A group of researchers from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (Spain), Texas A&M University and the University of Tennessee (USA) have developed a model of the life cycle of new phenomena in human culture.
According to the model, the popularity of any cultural innovation is fueled by constant rethinking of what has already been created within its framework.
When popularity reaches a certain critical level, the reinvention is lost among the mere repetition of what has already been created.
From that moment on, technologies, ideas, memes begin to stagnate, and interest in them begins to fall.
The theory of cultural evolution, which studies the dynamics of human material and informational creativity, proceeds from the observation that a relatively small subset of people are involved in the creation of something new.
Under something new, scientists understand the refinement of existing ideas and technologies, the introduction of elements into them that did not exist before, or even a simple recombination of those elements that already existed.
Once a new one is created, other people begin to use it by copying (for example, by forwarding Internet memes or quoting someone) or imitating (dressing like a celebrity or imitating the actions of influencers).
The authors of the work called the first, creative group of people experts, and the second, consuming group, imitators. In different scientific disciplines, these groups are called differently: producers and freeloaders, scouts and exploiters, and so on.
Usually there are many times more consumers than creators – this is clearly seen in the number of artists and spectators, fashion designers and fashion lovers, programmers and program users.
Of course, the same person in one case can be an expert (composing music), and in another – an imitator (reposting Internet memes).
The ratio of the number of experts and imitators determines what will happen to the cultural phenomenon in the near future.
When an idea, doctrine or technology lives in a narrow circle of experts, it develops rapidly and is able to quickly adapt to rapidly changing conditions.
On the other hand, this makes the existence of a cultural innovation unstable, because in a short time it can change beyond recognition.
Because of this, the turnover in the community of experts increases : some creative people leave, having lost interest in their changed offspring, and others come in their place – interested ones.
Imitators, on the other hand, give stability to a new cultural phenomenon – just by simply repeating what the experts created, spreading it further in space and time. The popularity of an idea or technology is growing, and there are more and more imitators.
However, along with this, cultural innovation begins to “cement” from changes and loses its novelty. In some cases, this development of events quickly leads to a decline in popularity and a decrease in response from the audience.
For example, in Internet memes and video games, novelty is one of the main success factors, since their invariable repetition quickly bothers people.
In other areas, this process is not so fleeting, but still, sooner or later, there comes a point when, due to the growth in popularity of a cultural phenomenon, imitators literally drown out experts.
Fresh ideas cease to circulate in the community, activity is reduced to commenting on what has been created without rethinking it. Cultural innovation turns into a “stone idol” and stagnates.
Bureaucracy and other social hierarchies are growing around it, which are also involved in protecting what has already been created from changes. What scientists call the death of expertise or the blurring of experience is happening.
The authors of the study tested this model on three cultural phenomena: video games for the Atari 2600 and Commodore Vic-20 (assembly code of 738 ROM files), cryptocurrency projects (1383 documents), and posts in the r/PunPatrol and r/Politics sections of Reddit (10761 posts). ).
The researchers evaluated these datasets on three dimensions: lexical diversity, information density, and structural complexity.
Video games for the Atari 2600, cryptocurrency projects, and posts on r/PunPatrol fit perfectly into the model. At first, they experienced a boom in popularity that left their communities filled with a huge number of imitators.
This has led to a decline in the diversity and structural complexity of products. Instead of something new, the repetition of the old has become increasingly common: that is, information saturation has given way to information redundancy.
As a result, interest in Atari 2600 games, cryptocurrency projects, and the r/PunPatrol subreddit collapsed after some stagnation.
Interestingly, at the collapse stage, the number of experts could even exceed the number of imitators, but this did not save the situation: the collapse was irreversible.
The Commodore Vic-20 games, r/Politics posts, and optics science articles that the authors of the paper analyzed for comparison did not have an explosion in popularity.
The scale of their communities grew slowly throughout the study period, so the ratio of the number of experts and imitators remained approximately the same. The variety, information density and structural complexity of these products also fluctuated around the same level all the time.
According to the authors of the study, their model directly tracks the diversity and evolution of cultural products represented in the form of symbols, whether they are words of a natural language or program code.
But the most important thing is that the model points to a purely internal reason for the collapse of fashion trends. This makes it possible (albeit technically difficult) to predict in advance the decline in interest in phenomena that have rapidly gained popularity.
Well, if the community does not want to reduce the quality of its products, it can artificially regulate the number of imitators so that the number of experts can keep up with the growth in popularity of cultural innovation.
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