A trend is observable in consumption patterns, political passions, intellectual fashions, but as any marketer, psychologist or trend-watcher will confirm, these are stand-ins for something else. When we say “sex sells”, we mean that the evocative suggestion of a sexy mood appears to translate into sales. Trends can be overt (the cyclical popularity of leathery S&M-ish imagery is an example of a sexy mood) or subtle (see normcore, which takes a Greimas square to become intelligible to trend-users), but they’re always perception filters that influence behavior.
Conversely: most moods can be trends if they’re massive enough. World Wars can’t happen without an uptick in bravery, patriotism and bloodlust.
At its core, a trend is not something that people do. Economists and decision-theorists are well aware that there is no such thing as “collective choice” or even “collective preferences” -- at least not in the crisp logic of individual subjectivity. Sure, a trend is observable as something that is said, bought, thought, effected by a multiplicity, but it’s much more useful to think of this multiplicity as a mass being, a snowball of behavior whose connection to individual subjectivities or to social interactions we don’t necessarily have to dive into.
The converse way of looking at this is briefly looking at the mass thing’s dual entity, the individual behavior. Contrary to the optimistic picture of consistent subjectivities over time, human behavior is fractured, contradictory and fickle. The snowball grows from some of these behaviors as it gains momentum. If wearing plaid to work is now a thing -- a mass thing -- we don’t have to care that some of these people are also goths under the full moon. This is tautological: if some of these apparently unrelated things happen to interact, we’re not looking at the correct snowball.
… or rather, the fully incomprehensible system of the world where there are no causes and effects, just phenomena of homeostasis, crisis, cancerous growth or collapse. This view of the world, we argue, is the useful one: (1) everything is everything, and it could very well be that the rise of protofascism drives the demand for mechanical pencils; and (2) everything that is practical to observe is a symptom of the standing cosmophysico-socio-symbolic constellation.
What is the practical thing (yes, trend-watching is also a trend, a mass-thing)? Not analysis (meaning: break down in parts), but anamnesis and diagnosis. Not forecasting, but prognosis. Consciously or not, trend-watchers take their epistemologies from endocrinologists, those princes of systems-thinking.
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