Behavior / Psychosocial

On Independent Action

20130405-230001.jpgWe all like to believe that our actions, preferences and desires are completely autonomous and unique. In other words, we do what we do because we are who we are and we like what we like, independent of societal norms and cultural influence. However, we also all really know this not to be true. Ever read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell? Then you know that intuitions, preferences and behaviors are social epidemics, influenced by several communal key actions and patterns.

So the point of this post is not to tell you what you already know, but rather to highlight a fascinating NPR article on Justin Timberlake’s new album, which apparently is an astounding commercial success with over a million copies sold in the first two weeks. Now, I’m not a Timberlake fan and will likely never buy or listen to the album. But what struck me is the premise (what the author terms the AC/DC rule) that the success of a band’s new album is actually an indicator of the value of its previous album. In other words, the public rushes to buy the follow-up album because the effect of the previous album influences the impact of the subsequent release. Artists such as AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Van Halen, Cat Stevens, Radiohead and Jethro Tull have all exhibited such a phenomenon, where the original, older album is so influential and exceptional that it drives astronomical sales of a later, more inferior release.

This got me thinking about how many of our present and future actions are driven by our past experiences. How do we prevent the pivotal emotions and events that shaped us in the past from defining us going forward? Can we — and should we — discriminate between perceptions influenced by prior exposure and impressions constructed by current realities? While we are indeed the sum total of our collective experiences, it seems wise to be at least cognizant of the “precedent influence,” because none of us wants to be defined in perpetuity by our first soundtrack.

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