The Virality of Contagion

The Virality of Contagion

Ten years ago I studied Gustave Le Bon's text "The Crowd: A Study of the Popular MInd" published in 1895. In the book he discusses the three principles of crowd persuasion as: 

1) Affirmation.

2) Repetition.

3) Contagion.

At the time, contagion was a weird term.

All my friends noted its ambiguity and many couldn't see any parallel between 'contagion' and contemporary crowds.

I interpreted the term as a mechanism to make information "catchy" to an audience - the way the content is wrapped to enhance consumption (like a Beatles song).

Le Bon defined it as, "...a phenomenon of which it is easy to establish the presence, but that is not easy to explain. It must be classed among those phenomena of a hypnotic order... In a crowd every sentiment and act is contagious, and contagious to such a degree that an individual readily sacrifices [their] personal interest to the collective interest."

I had no idea that this concept Le Bon talks of, the one he called "contagion," would rear its head again -- less than a decade after I discovered it -- as the concept of "virality."

Today information is condensed into "memes" and go "viral."

There's also a science on how things go viral.

Gustave Le Bon would be intrigued with the 21st Century, indeed.

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