Monkey see, monkey do. According to the web it’s a saying from the 1920s that has its origin in ancient West Africa. Basically, it’s the act of doing or believing something someone else has done or thought without actually thinking about it. The Internet has given this saying a new life way beyond when it first came to be.
People seem to want to copy what they see on the web. In fact, a lot of people seem to want to copy what they see on the web and then post a video of them doing that thing they saw on the web hoping it goes viral and they get to be famous for a minute or two. It’s a ridiculous feedback loop that’s just waiting for the next big stupid thing.
Case in point — ”The Shiggy Challenge.” You may have seen this, but here it is in a nutshell from the trucking news website CDL Life:
The Shiggy Challenge has passengers hopping out of moving cars to dance alongside the vehicle to the song “In My Feelings” by Drake. Some of the people taking part in the viral challenge are having a (very distracted) driver film them as they groove in the road alongside the slow moving car while others are simply setting up their cameras, putting the car into neutral, and leaving their cars to move down the road without a driver while they dance.
Yes, you read that right. Some are putting their cars in neutral and dancing alongside while it rolls down the road. There have been injuries, some serious, but true to web inspired monkey see, monkey do-ness, those videos are also posted so people can laugh at them.
How about the “Cinnamon Challenge?” This one dates back to 2001. In it, you take a teaspoon of ground cinnamon in 60 seconds without drinking anything and then post your video to the web. Of course, there are numerous negative side effects, including the possibility of a collapsed lung, but hey, anything for fame.
This mimicry can also be started by photos. A Canadian sunflower farm had to close to visitors this past July as a result of a picture on Instagram. Once the picture went viral, people swarmed to the farm and wreaked havoc on the owners. According to reports, there were confrontations, people tramping the fields, and parents walking strollers across four lanes of traffic to be a part of this latest viral sensation. The police had to shut it down.
It is human nature to mimic others. We are social creatures. Once a fashion trend gets started, people jump on board and follow that fashion for a time. Those trends used to last much longer. Think of powdered wigs. With the advent of the Information Age, they can come and go overnight. Mullets only lasted a couple of years in the 80s (except for certain parts of the country). When I first started to teach, I knew the grunge look was over when you could buy it at J.C. Penney.
The web, however, has tapped into this social desire and made billions from it. Every profitable technology, from Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat, mines our habits and then exploits them to make a buck and, in a sense, control us. I once Googled “fedora” and within a short amount of time I was getting targeted advertisements for hats. Now I like to search something random like “hair nets” or “umbrellas” just to see what pops up.
Keep in mind, there’s nothing nefarious about the data these companies have on us. We give it out willingly. When was the last time you read a user agreement before clicking on “accept?” Internet privacy is an oxymoron. There is no such thing as privacy on the web. Anything you post will be seen by others for as long as there’s an Internet.
The web’s influence goes beyond car dances and cinnamon. It’s also a hotbed of dumb ideas and conspiracy theories that people jump on because other people have jumped on them. Add a celebrity name, and you have a movement.
There was a time the Internet was touted as a great step forward for mankind. However, the good information (and there is a lot of good information) is being drowned in a sea of bad information and actions that, at one time in history, would be considered laughable. At the same time we are in an era of ignorance by choice creating a large group of people who are easily manipulated into doing things that others are doing simply because they are doing it.
Monkey see, monkey do.