Embracing the Weird

9 Jan

Thanks to the Internet, weird has reached an all-time high. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

There are plenty of people who think the Internet is evil. Others think it is God. I believe that it is merely a tool, like all technology, and can be used for good or for evil by people. But that technology is not inherently anything but neutral.

That being said, the Internet (and the prevalence of social media) has ushered in the era of the weird.  It has made “the long tail” finally relevant. Let me explain.

If you think of the bell-shaped curve and the normal distribution, you know that most “normality” falls into the curve.  And one rarely thinks about the long tail off to the side that trails on and on.  For many years, normality has been what sold.  Why would you produce a product that 5 people might want when you could produce a product that appeals to 99%?  Or 92%?  So mass production has been centered on the majority that fall within the bell-shaped curve.  This is basic economics and makes total sense.

In a large city it might be profitable to open a stamp collectors store.  But in a small town?  No.  You cater to the majority. You have grocery stores but probably not an Asian market unless there is a large Asian population.  You have libraries but probably not a cookbook only store unless there is a large cooking population.

But the Internet has made weird normal. In the greatest sense.  With ITunes, you can find all kinds of obscure music to listen to that you never would have found at your local CD store (carrying the top 40 and a smattering in other genres).  With Amazon, you can buy a book that isn’t a bestseller, it doesn’t cost them anything to list random books that might appeal to a very small population anymore than it costs them to list the bestsellers.  At a bookstore, there’s never enough space or demand for the odd stuff.  With chat rooms and websites and social media tools, you can find other people with the same diverse interests as you (a rare breed of dog? a clown phobia? a desire to travel to every single country? You can find lots of websites and other people who are just as weird as you in the same way you’re weird.  How cool is that?)

Before, we were limited by geography.  So we were pigeon-holed into eating the same types of food and reading the same types of books and thinking (a lot) of the same types of thoughts.  But if you look back at the world’s great explorers, inventors, scientists, engineers, etc. the one thing many of them have in common is that they bucked the status quo, they were weird, and great stuff happened.

I wrote half of this blog.  Then I saved it and started reading We Are All Weird by Seth Godin. And basically he says everything I said above (and more) but in a better way.  It’s pretty fascinating.

But the one sentence that is sticking with me so far, that I reread multiples times today is this: “If you persist in trying to be all things to all people, you will fail. The only alternative, then, is to be something important to a few people.”  Just like mass production tried to please everyone with limited products (and failed) so people try to appeal normal in order to appeal to everyone.  It can’t be done.  Why?  Because we are all weird.  The best we can hope for is to be ourselves, embrace our weird, and hope a select few will find our weird endearing.

I’d rather matter deeply to a few people in my lifetime than be universally accepted but ignored by the masses.  Especially if I was continually fighting a losing battle of pretending to be everything that is normal.

Weird is okay.  Weird is good.  And finally, maybe for the first time in history, weird is becoming acceptable.

It was about time.

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