Understanding sharing – ‘Viral’ media sharing across social networks   no comments

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As a linguist, the way in which material can be shared internationally between various linguistic groups is something I find fascinating. To take a particular example, let’s use ‘Gangnam Style’ – A song with Korean lyrics. Korean is, at the risk of sounding harsh, not the most widely spoken of languages. Consider that of its 75 million native speakers (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_Language), many live in North Korea and would have had no access to the song. On a more linguistic level, Korean belongs to the Altaic language family and is, according to what can be described as a ‘best linguistic guess’, most closely related to Japanese. But I can assure you now that not only do the speakers of the two languages have some long running disputes, but they also don’t understand each other at all. As a speaker of Japanese, I can assure anyone reading this that the languages are not even slightly similar.

So not that many people world-wide would understand the song. And yet its Youtube video has 1,788,916,808 views. (youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0). In the time it took me to type that out, it has probably grown again. And according to Laura Edwards, that’s for one simple reason – Social media sharing, or as she puts it people wanting “their friends, family and distant acquaintances to…share in the enjoyment of” the video. (socialmediatoday.com/laurahelen/980476/how-did-gangnam-style-go-viral)

There are thousands upon thousands of other examples – Youtube videos like ‘Will it Blend?’, memes, songs, adverts…But why DO things go viral? And how do they spread?

With these questions in mind, I’ve chosen the following disciplines: Complexity Science and Psychology. And the reasons for that are simple: Complexity Science deals with complex systems – understanding that system by modelling it and seeking to understand how it works. And is there any system more complicated than a social network? Someone’s sharing something with one group while possibly hiding it from another group – Nobody wants their grandma to see how drunk they were last night.

Psychology, on the other hand, seeks to understand the individual. And the individual users are just as important, in this case. Consider a user X. He sees the Gangnam Style video and does not think it’s funny – He doesn’t share it. Consider a different user, Y – He hears the Gangnam Style song and has an obsession with K-Rap, so he finds the video and shares it everywhere without even seeing it. Understanding these ideosyncrasies is the forte of Psychology, making it ideal for this purpose.

To start with, I’ve already read the Wikipedia entries for Complexity Science (Which redirects to Complex Systems) and Pyschology, spoken to friends studying for postgraduate qualifications in both fields and read “Psychology – A Very Short Introduction” (Butler, G & McManus, F; 1998; Oxford University Press), as well as various Internet articles which seek to define the two disciplines. This was predominantly to confirm my choices than to seek to define them.

As far as further study goes, I’m hoping that the friends I’ve spoken to will provide me with a list of useful materials soon, but in the meantime  I’m going to start on Pyschology as it’s more familiar – Linguistics shares some similar concepts. So particularly useful sources that I’ve found so far are “The Analysis of Mind,” by Bertrand Russell, available online from the library, a book called “Approaching Multivariate Analysis: An Introduction for psychology,” which I’m hoping might help me begin to understand how Psychology seeks to ‘solve’ problems and “Atkinson & Hilgard’s introduction to psychology,” all of which are seemingly relevant books I’ve found on Webcat.

With regard to Complexity Science, I’ve come up with the following sources: Chaos Under Control (Peak, David) which seems to give a basic overview of how Complexity Science seeks to cope with ‘chaos’, which seems useful for a social network; Morowitz’s “The Emergence of Everything – How the World Became Complex,” which is an electronic resource which doesn’t seem 100% helpful but I’m reading anyway to get in the ‘complexity mindset’; the Journal of Systems Science and Complexity, which I’m reading just to look at how complexity science is applied and how it ‘solves’ problems.

In addition, I’ve got a lot of Google search result links. I’m working my way through them, but they mostly concern introductions to the relevant disciplines and subfields, such as ‘Internet Psychology’, which seems particularly useful – Who knows: Maybe psychology will turn out to be too broad and I’ll go for that one?

So that’s all for now. Back to reading, I guess

Written by Neal Reeves on October 13th, 2013

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