Emotional, awe-inspiring stories are more likely to be shared online, says John
Tierney of the New York Times. In his column Will You Be
E-mailing This Column? It's Awesome, Tierney cites a study done at the
University of Pennsylvania that finds the following:
"More emotional stories were more likely to be e-mailed, the researchers
found, and positive articles were shared more than negative ones. Longer
articles generally did better than shorter articles, although Dr. Berger said
that might just be because the longer articles were about more engaging topics.
(The best way to test that, he said, would be for The Times to run shorter and
longer versions of the same article that would be seen by different
Surprising articles, like one about free-range chickens on the streets of
New York, were also more likely to be e-mailed — which was a hardly a surprising
discovery, of course. But the researchers also kept finding popular articles
with a quality that went beyond surprise.
“If I went into my classroom dressed up like a pirate, that would be
surprising, but it wouldn’t be awe-inspiring,” Dr. Berger said. “An article
about square watermelons is surprising, but it doesn’t inspire that awed feeling
that the world is a broad place and I’m so small.”
Building on prior research, the Penn researchers defined the quality as
an “emotion of self-transcendence, a feeling of admiration and elevation in the
face of something greater than the self.”
They used two criteria for an awe-inspiring story: Its scale is large,
and it requires “mental accommodation” by forcing the reader to view the
world in a different way." (emphasis added)
That last line was the one that really hooked me. At an intuitive level, I
think we all get this, yet it's not immediately apparent why.
Doc Searls has written quite a bit over the years on the concept of
"authority," linking the meaning of the word to its root, author. In
2007, he wrote:
I think that's the link. If we've read (or seen, or heard, or experienced)
something that has changed us, perhaps we feel a need to share that change with
others. Furthermore, if we have allowed ourselves to be authored…again,
literally, we've allowed ourselves to be written to…that means we have
interacted with something that is, at some level, larger and
more powerful than ourselves.
And that's awesome.