The 1% that shape Internet culture
How a subset of people, their personalities & struggles are shaping everyone else's experiences
Today I am going to follow a thought process that involves two ideas: the 1% rule of Internet Culture and the relationship between the individual mind and the collective mind.
The 1% rule
The 1% rule of Internet Culture is a rule of thumb which states that only 1% of the people on the Internet create the content on the Internet. The other 99% just reads, watches, listens and consumes.
There is a participation inequality due to this steep power law, which leads to interesting ramifications and n-order effects. Like, for example, one person being behind a third of what’s on Wikipedia.
Take, for example, Steven Pruitt, a Wikipedia editor.
Mr. Pruitt has made almost 3 million edits and written 35,000 original articles for Wikipedia. To put those numbers into perspective, one-third of all English language articles on Wikipedia have been edited by Mr. Pruitt.
Do you know how much money he has made? Zero dollars. Do you know how long he has been up to this? All his free time over the last 13 years.
Mr. Pruitt is an outlier. A person on the tail ends. As Taleb would say, focus on the extremes when they make a big impact on the norm.
Let us keep the example of Mr. Pruitt in mind, for now we will dive deeper into the relationship between the individual mind and the collective one.
The relationship between the individual and the collective mind
I like to visualize the individual mind as a person. An ink blot. A dot. A drop of water.
For the collective one, I like to visualize a network which connects as many dots as the population it represents. A network. A cloud formed from n water drops.
One drop of water will not do much to change pretty much anything. A cloud full of them which can create torrential rain, can.
Each drop of water contributes to the size of the cloud, the same way each individual mind contributes to the collective one. The cloud is emergent from the drops in the same way the collective mind emerges from the relationships between the individual ones.
However, the feedback loop between the individual mind and the collective one is asymmetrical.
The individual does not change or make a noticeable impact on the collective. The collective does make a noticeable change and impact on the individual.
In a way, it is an unequal relationship between each of us individuals and the collective.
From the collective mind, culture forms.
By the definition, the culture of a collective is the sum of the shared experiences of the individuals. Let’s say, a form of average of the experiences they lived individually.
Now that we have the two ideas in mind, everything created on the Internet is done by 1% of the people (creators), and our individual minds are shaped and influenced by the collective mind, let’s talk about autism.
Autism on the Internet
According to the CDC, roughly 1-2% of the population is autistic. Autism is a complex, lifelong developmental disability that impacts social skills, communication, relationships and self-regulation.
Among the characteristics of autism, there are problems with social interaction with others, unusual interest in objects, need for sameness, obsessive behaviours and activities and favouring of strict adherence to routines and predictable patterns.
Even though roughly only 1% of the population is autistic, autistic traits are impacting the collective culture at a grand scale due to the Internet.
If you are reading this email, you are probably well versed enough in Internet culture to know of the popularity of autism and autistic as insults and to define hyper online Internet people. Whether they are or not, there is no smoke without fire.
Hyper online people, those who spend a large amount of time on the Internet, are mocked for their lack of social skills. Their need of structure and instructions. Their lack of understanding of others…
I do not know if they are autistic or not, but they are overrepresented in the 1% who creates all the content on the Internet.
Now wonder, what does it mean that a 1% creates the 100% of the content, they lack development and social skills, and culture influences us way more than the other way around?
Well, we get individuals like Mr. Pruitt above, who spends all of his free time editing and writing Wikipedia articles, to the point of representing a third of all Wikipedia articles in English. One person has an immense impact on the collective.
How are we being influenced by such individual outliers?
Impact of outliers on culture
Okay, so you may have noticed a contradiction. On one hand, I mention that us individuals have small impact on culture, whereas on the other hand, I mention that there are a small number of people who have a grand impact.
Well, this too follows a power law. And it remains true that 99.99999% of people make close to zero impact on culture.
However, the small percent of outliers who do influence, do so massively.
Ever heard of how many male fashion designers are homosexual, hence they feel no sexual interest in the female models, hence they favour models on the skinnier side to focus all the attention on the clothes, hence it leads to many young and impressionable girls and women suffer from anorexia?
Well, something like that.
Of course, none of this is scientific nor do I have peer reviewed papers. It is, after all, a thought experiment.
Going back to the aforementioned Wikipedia editor, which I swear I have nothing against (he just fits our example perfectly), what if he lacked some development issue and this were reflected in his work? What if he held strong political views on a subject and this were reflected on a third of the Wikipedia articles in English?
Well, he is human, and the answer to both questions is closer to a yes than a no.
What if, and maybe I am being crazy here, the 1% of creators of the Internet have autistic traits and personalities, and are shaping everyone who reads, watches and listens to content on the Internet?
Let me say that there is nothing inherently wrong with this. It is just the conclusion I am reaching towards.
A conclusion that may explain the rise of autistic traits in people who do not suffer from autism. People who log on the Internet and only read content written by a 1% who are overrepresented.
Being hyper online favours certain personality traits and characteristics. Yet these traits end up becoming the norm in Internet culture.
I am aware that the tone of the email may seem negative. Or even saying that there is something wrong with a small number of outliers having an influence over the whole.
On the contrary, I find the idea interesting. Outliers represent variance and experimentation. They are the people who will either cause great benefit to humanity, or great disaster.
Outliers, those at the tail ends, are those who create art, who innovate, who will sacrifice everything in pursuit of an ideal or a goal.
A small number of people creating all the content means that their strengths and their weaknesses become the norm in Internet culture, overrepresented when compared to the “real world” (and I put real world in quotes because the distinction between the offline and the online is disappearing).
For the same reason logging on Instagram and watching everybody else's holidays, trips, etc. can lead to depression, reading struggles, stories and situations experimented by hyper online people can lead you to believing you suffer from them too.
The idea that lead to this email was that plenty of perfectly developed people think they suffer from autism or autistic traits when they do not. And they believe so because all content on the Internet is mostly autistic, or written by hyper online people with autistic traits.
Most people do not have autism, and this creates a misunderstanding with those who do have it and need our support.
PS: If you are interested in outliers and how they think, and how you can apply an orthogonal way of thinking yourself, my brilliant friend Chance Lunceford wrote Uncommon Mentality.