The worldwide grapevine

If you google the word ‘eyeliner’, you’ll get results for millions of videos, images, blog posts…about how to apply eyeliner. This is one of the most basic steps of applying makeup, yet an incredible number of people in the world want to share their personal tips and tricks on selecting the right brush, getting the perfect line, keeping it from smudging… Some of these people are celebrity makeup artists, some beauticians and skin care professionals, but the vast majority of these ‘beauty bloggers’ are just regular teenage girls filming from their bedrooms, girls who probably learned the technique just months before in a similar online tutorial.

It’s the global grapevine in action: people learn something new, then pass that experience on by telling others about it. The only difference is, in the information age, that ‘somebody’ can be hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

The same idea can naturally be applied to other territories of life, like gaming, cooking, programming, or even mundane things like folding socks or the infamous ‘double-utensil wash’ (if you don’t know what it is, google it; it will blow your mind.) Everything from making nitroglycerine to sneezing correctly has a how-to video these days, and each video finds an audience, no matter how small or large. Each contribution adds to the diversity of human knowledge, and the result is bigger than the sum of its parts. As a result, now is the first day and age during which people can become experts in a field without leaving their homes or live communication.

Imagine, for example, that you’re a teenager living twenty years ago, and you want to learn to apply eyeliner. It’s not a skill you can learn at school or research at the library, so your only authorities on the subject are your mom and the neighbor girl, if at least one of them knows how to do it well and is willing to teach you. If not, you can invest in a makeup course, but even then your body of knowledge will be limited to that of a handful of people. Fast forward to the information age, and suddenly you’ve got thousands of neighbor girls, all experts in applying makeup, eager to pass on their knowledge to you.

Information sharing is powerful, and I’m not referring to the vast collection of the traditional ‘expert’ media, like magazines, manuals or scientific papers; I’m only talking about word-of-mouth: people talking to other people. As social beings, we place more authority on the opinions of real people than of the information we’re bombarded with. When looking for a good dishwashing liquid, for instance, would you be more inclined to buy the one you saw a fancy ad about, or the one your housemate casually mentioned as being ‘pretty decent’? Likewise, if you want to quickly learn how to make a mean risotto, would you rather sift through volumes of cookbooks for the perfect technique, or just watch someone else do it?

The beauty of the worldwide grapevine, or word-of-mouth information sharing, is that now traditionally unteachable things have become teachable: things that don’t require tremendous computational skills and are considered to be intuitive, yet for most people are not. On their own, these mundane tips may seem insignificant, but in combination it’s the little things – like knowing how to properly choose a suit, store cables without them tangling, or make eye contact – that can make a huge difference to the quality of someone’s life.

Olga Motsyk is an MSc aerospace engineering student from Kiev, Ukraine. She can be reached at olgamotsyk@gmail.com

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