Start with this thought experiment. How similar can your outfit be to a co-worker’s before you’re embarrassed. If you’re wearing the same pants? Same pinstripe jacket? Same tie? How different could your attire be before you feel uncomfortable? You’re the only one wearing jeans, or the only one with sneakers? (ladies, use your own examples).
On the one hand you have pressure to conform to a certain dress code, on the other – status is conferred to those who stand out among their peers. The fundamental question here is about a tension between similarity and difference.
The clustering and creative forces at war here lead to the emergence of trends that resemble the undulating movement of flock of birds, like the pseudopod motility of an amoeba. On part branches out in a new direction and the rest of the organism flows in to follow. Keep the image of the birds in mind because it is a good representation of how macro-behavior is changed by the two core determinant factors (ornithologists forgive me).
Canadian Goose (high conformity, low distinction): You have seen the flying V, and these mighty ducks get in a very tight formation and one path and don’t change course for miles and miles.
Starlings (high conformity, high distinction): Each member wants to go in its own direction, wants to stay together and doesn’t want to crash. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81wFZavdhPU&feature=related
Seagull (Low conformity, high distinction): These birds are off on their own mission. There are still groups, but once in the air these birds really don’t follow each other they just end up circling in the same areas because there is lot of trash.
The question: How, over time, has the strength of each force (conformity and distinction) changed over time in modern cultures. Modernity seems to continually favor individuality, but yet are people just being the “same kind of different”? Is the thrust for creativity empowering? or just another way to put people down?
Did I buy a purple shirt to be different? or is it just that too many people already had pink? This starling is getting dizzy.