Everywhere we go, trends follow us. When we learn about a new idea or item that is becoming popular, we want to watch it, use it, or buy it. When something is trending, we rely on its level of popularity as a mental shortcut: if everyone is talking about it, we believe that there must be a reason, so we end up copying other people’s tastes, interests, and behaviors. The advantage of participating in a trend is that a person feels comfortable with others and at ease with themselves. This sense of feeling makes us want to be part of trends.
But are trends harmless?
I’m not so sure. Award winning science writer, Philip Ball, in his Aeon essay, “Sim Ethics,” helps readers think through the ethics of virtual consciousness, the ability to upload individual consciousness into digital space. What interests me most in this essay is the idea of replication inferiority. Adrian Kent, a theoretical physicist at the University of Cambridge, says that “different lives are preferable to multiple copies of a single life.” In the context of Ball’s essay, this is specifically about digitally replicating individual human consciousness as SIMS, but the principle is worth considering for teens IRL.
In our daily lives, there are many examples in which humans and animals replicate each other’s behavior for survival. Mimicking behavior is a great tool for maintaining a species. But the difference between a human and an animal is that humans possess consciousness and have the ability to question themselves. Humans can ask: Who am I? And why does it matter? People can reflect and decide whether or not a particular behavior is part of the answer to that personal and essential question that goes beyond survival.
So, Who Should I Follow?
While copying others' behavior can be a helpful way to make our own choices, it is not always the case. Copying certain behaviors can lead us down a path that takes us farther away from who we are.
Trends complicate teens’ freedom to choose their own conscious self. Online, teens occupy multiple personas on various platforms or apps, and they copy the behavior connected to each platform. But by being preoccupied with those trends, they are also losing their identity and becoming replicas. Teens might not realize this, since our minds are fixated on making sure we are fitting in, but when we wear the same clothes or mimic someone’s behavior, we are losing ourselves. This happens because the more we look and behave like others, the less awkward we feel. We know we will not be judged.
In terms of the replication inferiority theory, individuals lose their value when they adjust themselves to be clones of another person. When teens see a trend they want to replicate, they might neglect to ask questions like: Does this product reflect who I am or want to be? Am I participating in this activity because I understand it and care about it, or am I just following along? Speaking for myself, I know that I have decided to participate in certain trends because everybody else was doing it. I never stopped to ask: Is this truly me? But now I do.
Participating in trends gives us a sense of community, which is great! But often we sacrifice our individuality without even realizing that we are losing what makes us special. Sometimes people think a difference is bad because it can make a person feel left out, but the difference highlights and emphasizes the nature of one's true self. When we are our true selves, we will find a community that supports us. While it can be frightening to appear different from those around us, being unique is important because it gives us our truest value.
Embracing your individuality can help you lead a more fulfilling life, as it allows you to express yourself freely and authentically. When you are true to yourself, you are less likely to be influenced by societal norms or expectations, and can instead focus on what truly matters to you. This can lead to greater confidence and a stronger sense of self-worth.
Moreover, embracing your individuality can also have a positive impact on those around you. By being true to yourself, you can inspire others to do the same, leading to a more diverse and accepting community. This not only helps to create a more vibrant and dynamic society, but also allows for a greater exchange of ideas and perspectives, which can lead to greater understanding and growth.
However, it is important to remember that finding and embracing your individuality takes time and effort. It requires introspection, self-reflection, and a willingness to challenge your own beliefs and perceptions. It is a journey that requires patience, openness, and a commitment to personal growth.