I met with my IT guy this afternoon in a vainglorious effort to to link my Facebook Fanpage with my Twitter and MySpace accounts.  My goal...to achieve virality! That's right, virality.  A century ago when infectious diseases reigned supreme, virality meant something entirlely different, and in a bad way-a very bad way. It meant that a handshake, a cough, a sneeze or some seemingly innocuous and completely unplanned and inadvertant or accidental physical contact, could lay waste to thousands of other people all over the world.  Sort of an apocalyptic butterfly effect. Virality was the enemy.

Today; however, it is the hope of every entrepreneurial and entertainment wannabe, cyber-fanatic and just plain old run-of-the-mill freakazoid (I use this term lovingly) to go viral. With the click of a mouse (and a fair share of Internet and social networking savvy), tens of thousands, if not millions of people can watch you brush your teeth, know the contents of you alimentary canal, appreciate your thoughts, listen to your music, feel your pain and/or think about YOU.

 In short, through the miracle of the Internet, we need never be alone! And if we are lucky; and yes it does happen, we may be discovered and claim our 15 minutes of fame.

What is it about the possibility of going viral that so entrances us? Is it simply the next big thing to want to be the next big thing? Or does the real appeal of virality lie in the sense of connection afforded by being linked-in, friend-requested and twittered? Is virality an antidote to the lonlieness, isolation and disenfranchisement that is often associated with depression, dysthymia and social anxiety.  Or is it a reflection of the painful and poignant  'anomie' that is a by-product of our seemingly normless society that sociologist Emile Durkheim  spoke about. Is it an electronic plague that threatens to further deepen the divide between us? 

Maybe it is simply the knowledge that "we got people" that gets us through the night. At any moment, our Facebook page can light up with birthday wishes, we can receive a tweet from a new friend on the other side of the world or 68,345 people will watch the family dog fall over backwards while sleeping.  It is no surprise that some of the more popular television commericals link branded products with virality.  The Verizon guy, who used to wander across the planet asking "can you hear me now" is now accompanied by an army of peoploe, ready to listen and serve. He is no longer a loner seeking connection but an ambassador of interconnection. Similarly, the H&R Block advertising campaign assures you that they too can provide you with people.  Death may be an isolating event, but taxes doesn't have to be.image      image

Is "going viral" a good thing...a bad thing...both or neither. Is it a socially sanctioned (and ocassioanlly well remunerated) form of exhibitionsism? Is it collective voyeurism, one step below America's Funniest Home Videos on the social networking food chain? Maybe in the final analysis, it is the newest incarnation of the American Dream of connection, opportunity and hope?!

Please visit some of the fascinating PT blog posts that address this phenomenon including "Going Viral" by Dennis Rosen and "Author Bill Wasik on Viral Culture" by Carlin Flora.

About the Author

Lawrence Rubin

Lawrence Rubin, Ph.D., ABPP, is a co-author of Messages: Self Help Through Popular Culture, and a professor at St. Thomas University.

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