If we’re gonna get pedantic (why not? I have no plans), we get the word trending from an Old English word (trendan) with Germanic roots. It was a verb that meant “turn in a specified direction”. By the 19th century, its figurative definition made its way onto the scene; “to assume a general tendency”. Now, in the 21st century, we have the added definition of popularity on the internet. What does this mean for a blog that’s sincerely attempted to stray from trends in an effort to introduce one author’s thoughts into the blog-o-sphere? Let’s pontificate. I bet it means important things.

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(The doge meme is not trending. But I still like it. Hence.)

Okay, it probably doesn’t mean much. It means my original goal was to introduce people to things that I think don’t get enough attention by the mainstream. You might think that’s cool, you might think it’s pointless; either way, I would make the argument that there can be a lot of pressure on an individual to engage with a culture that revolves around trends. For some people that means taking an active role in perpetuating the trend. For others (me, because I am actually an old woman who found herself in the body of a 21 year old college student, somehow), that means learning just enough about the trends so that you know what people are even talking about when they start a conversation with you. I’m not someone that usually stays “on top” of whatever is popular; I didn’t keep up with the Kardashians, I don’t use Twitter, and I would rather veg out on old serial dramas on Netflix than the new, critically acclaimed Netflix original of the hour.

This is not to say that any of those things is bad. They’re (probably) not. Society relies on trends to build connections. Keeping up with mainstream trends, like what’s popular on television, has historically been one of the best ways to enable and enhance social participation, allowing a sort of cultural citizenship to take place; being part of the same audience allows people to enjoy the feeling of belonging and identity, which is true across all media, television, print, and otherwise.

The phenomenon that goes against most of this could arguably be the culture of memes on the internet, which come from obscure places before being spread to the most visible internet platforms; they aren’t necessarily trending, until very suddenly, they are, before they’ve gone back to relative obscurity.

Trending culture can very quickly snap things up, so quickly that sometimes society doesn’t even fully understand what it’s propagated before it’s propagating it. Let’s use a pre-internet example. Punk rock emerged as a rejection on mainstream 1970s rock music. By the 1980s, post-punk bands were already a thing, and by the 1990s, punk, a genre that was originally about counterculture, had essentially been adopted into the mainstream. In the words of musician Thurston Moore, “We didn’t know what punk was until it was dead.”

I think that might be the effect of most trends. We can’t see how they’re important or what they’ll really mean for our culture until they’re not trends. Perhaps, with the phenomenon of rediscovery, we get a second chance at interpreting and understanding them. But maybe that’s just me. And if it is, well, then I guess this won’t be trending.

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3 thoughts on “On the Nature of Trending

  1. This is all great and I love that you added the origins of the word trending. I didn’t know that is where it came from, but makes sense. I think your ideas on things that are trending building social participation is interesting. We are all about communities and we are all about what the new “thing” is whether that be a meme, a TV show or clothing item. I feel as if when a community is built, even if the trend is no longer popular, that community remains. Whoever is part of that community can always go back to their people and be nostalgic about whatever connected them in the first place. Take crocs. Super popular for a short amount of time and now they are a comical item but if someone owns a pair and they come across someone else who had them too, they instantly have a connection.

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    1. You’re right, the communities that spring up around these things are often much longer lasting than the things themselves- which is probably why reunion tours (of all genres) are so successful, among other things.

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  2. Not gonna lie, I’m obsessed with trending culture. I love keeping up with the Kardashians (both the show and literally keeping updated on their lives), I watch all the new Netflix shows, and I definitely have a Twitter so I can share the latest meme. That being said, I applaud you for trying to introduce us to media that we may not have encountered in the mainstream, because “trending” topics tend to be limited in scope and variety.

    One of the most interesting ideas you bring up in this piece is the idea of connections through shared media. I genuinely feel connected to society when I watch these shows or read certain books at a given time. For example, a popular HBO series called Big Little Lies just finished airing, and I feel like part of my soul died along with it. I loved tweeting about it, reading theories online, and reading reviews and recaps after each episode aired. I felt connected to a larger audience, and like I was a part of something- even if I never left my couch. (And I know you don’t like mainstream culture, but just watch the trailer, you’ll be hooked).

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