Mark Earls and the madness of crowds
In the past 10 years have you noticed how many more flower shrines there are on the street side? These cellotaphs seem to be everywhere, and seem to have come from nowhere. Is this sudden flower frenzy since Princess Diana's death, where two tonnes of flowers got left in two weeks, a sign of mass behaviour, is it a message or signal being sent from somewhere, or is it a social act, a pilgrimage?
Is it a release from the inability of the people to articulate their feelings, is it something the media have helped encourage? Is it because the people see someone doing something which the media help amplify which makes those people do something physical and impulsive: people end up "just wanting to be part of it".
Is it an orchestrated politicised event which made the crowds do something which is now repeated over and over again?
How did someone make us or them do something en masse, between the moment there was nothing and the moment when there was two tonnes of flowers on Kensington Palace and cellotaphs on every street in Britain? This is what we'll set out to discover in the next hour.
The Mexican Wave: why do you take part in a Mexican wave? How can we walk down a high street and not knock anyone down? The reason? Human beings are hardwired to learn by copying each other. We are better at copying than any other mammal. When people lay flowers or cellotaphs after a tragedy it is probably not down to any of the reasons given in the intro to the talk - it's just that it is an act which is easy to copy. When you're getting weaned off drugs the pyschotherapist's main question will be "are you prepared to make new friends" just because humans are too good at copying the behaviour of those around them.
This hardwired need to copy could be one aspect which explains the explosion of the participative web. The ease of taking out that activity is another: if you want to start a Mexican wave the movement is so simple anyone can do it, if you want to publish on the web, likewise.
If copying behaviour is so easy to do and the explanations so simple, then what hope do organisations have to control this behaviour? The answer, I think we concluded quite simply, was that they can't.
A bit of a deep discussion that I might try to make more sense of later... brain frying now.