23 May 2012

The Spirit of the Age

We all know how trends work. There's a ramp up, a peak, and then a fall. Similarly, you can be early, on time, or late for these things. That's the game I've been playing with myself recently, trying to figure out what kind of stuff I've been early or late on.

For example, I was relatively early on Ryan Gosling, right with the mainstream for TailSpin, and distressingly late on coconut water. You can be early/on time/late for just about anything -- assuming they came close to ubiquitousness. Being early on something that never blew up doesn't count. We're aiming for mainstream exposure here.

You'll know something is worthy of consideration if you can proudly exclaim, "I called ____ back in ____!" I don't know about you but the thrill of being ahead of the curve on something is a natural high. When I rule the world, awards will be handed out for this sort of thing. Here's a great example of a trendsetter in action from The Graduate. See how Mr. McGuire was trying to call that out? Plastics! (Okay I know that's not what that scene meant...)

Another way of looking at it is as described in Scott Westerfeld's So Yesterday where the "cool pyramid" is defined as (from top to bottom): Innovators, Trendsetters, Early Adopters, Consumers. For the purposes of this exercise, we're looking to see if you were an early adopter, an on time consumer, or a late consumer. If you were an innovator or trendsetter, you're already way too cool for this game. If you invented the Internet or something, get the hell out of here, nobody likes a braggart.
  • For each item, there has to be an identifiable peak, or period/moment when they were huge.
  • You're not late to the party if you weren't alive during the time of their prominence.
This last one is important. Take shell toes for example, the Adidas Superstar. They were obviously huge in the 70s and early 80s but then had a resurgence in the late 90s and early 2000s. Well I wasn't around for the first go around but jumped on the bandwagon for Round Two. Right on time I'd say. Using the same criteria, I can't be early or late for Michael Jackson.

Here's a sampling of my list so far:
Early (Bellwether): Febreze, Ryan Gosling (The Believer), Twilight (2007), downloading music, Mad Men, real-time strategy games (Herzog Zwei), Tamagotchi, Palladia Music Channel, man purses (2000), Azealia Banks, Scarlett Johannson (Ghost World), blogging (2000), ramen, Malcolm Gladwell (pre-Tipping Point), Sidekick aka Danger Hiptop, big ill-fitting glasses (every FOB is ahead on this), TED Talks, argyle socks, Really Simple Syndication, Kirby, PDAs (Handspring), iPods, The Office (British version), fantasy sports (middle school)

On Time (Lemming): NKOTB, Survivor, Twitter, Emma Stone, Martika, "Kocomo," Jersey Shore, Kat Von D, boba, Frank Gehry, shell toes, Glee, Top Gun, Razor scooters, TGIF on ABC, raving, The Dougie, snowboarding, 4-color pens, Deion Sanders, Beanie Babies, ICQ, wallet chains, parachute pants, eReaders, Game Boy, stickers

Late (Sloth): Woody Allen, JNCOs, Kanye West, MySpace, Johnny Cash resurgence, sushi, Felicity, The Biebs, "Crush On You," boxer briefs, Consumer Electronics Show, John Hughes movies, most hip hop dance crazes, coconut water, portable CD player, Battlestar Galactica, in the know slang words

Missed, some happily, some not on purpose (Dodo): Simpsons, The Wire, Meryl Streep, peg leg jeans, The Running Man, Lost, kombucha, overalls, beets, Adult Swim
As you can see, personal trends emerge. My profile is early on things available electronically; right with most of my generation camped out in front of the television; but generally clueless throughout most of the Eighties. Oh well, all fads aren't created equal, missing a few is probably a great thing.

An extra fun part of this game is to track where I got my early stuff from. For example, my friend Victor put me onto Mad Men right before the hype. And my friend Michael pushed me ahead on Mayer Hawthorne because he couldn't stop talking about him ("This guy went to my high school!").

Different people are consistently ahead on various things. One person may always be late on Internet memes but way ahead on the next must-try food item. People are attuned to different stations and nobody can be up on everything (Actually I know some people who seemingly are up on everything, and I'm confused about how they do it.) It's useful to know which friends are which in each category so you know whether to take what they're saying with a grain of salt or not.

That's not to say that being late the party is a bad thing. No judgement calls here. I mean, it's important to know when something has hit the mainstream right? What else will you talk about at dinner parties? A good rule of thumb: If it hits the cover of Time, your local newspaper, the back section of US World & News Report, or heavens, the New York Times for a trend piece, it's about to nosedive and you're late.

Another good use for non-early friends is to know when something has really hit its peak. "Wow, it even reached him/her? It's officially everywhere now!" Don't be embarrassed if you're that person. No big deal. Just be that change, you know?