The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday February 6th

Because everyone else is doing it

It happened again. It came and it went. As expected, “the most wonderful time of the year” left untold millions of dollars in credit card debt and thousands of pounds in guilty, sugared pleasures. It left trees, stripped of elaborate decor, at our curbsides awaiting pickup. It left Snooki having to change her plans for New Years Eve when New Yorkers firmly refused her request to ride the ball down in Times Square.

And it left a question in my head: Why do we continue to jump on this holiday bandwagon, year after year?

Sure, various cultures have religious ties to the season, but none require all the busy materialism. And don’t get me wrong, I love time with the close family and seasonal traditions as much as anyone else.

But the excess hustle and bustle of the holidays is just inescapable. No matter how stressful the gatherings are with those distant relatives that we really don’t like but are obliged to see yearly, we still go through with them.

We jump on the one-horse open sleigh only because millions worldwide are doing it too. And we see these same trends year round. They’re the clothes we buy, regardless of taste, to fit the social norm. They’re the games that we attend because 60,000 fans claim that they’re fun. They’re the episodes of Glee that we watch so that we can have a basis of conversation with all the other ‘Gleeks’ the next day. The bandwagons may even have pressured some of us to come to college — after all, everyone else was doing it.

Social scientist Muzafer Sherif hypothesized that this “mirroring” is human nature. In a 1935 social experiment, he asked individuals to estimate the distance that a dot traveled across a screen. Next, he put them in groups and asked them to do the same experiment aloud.

Because the group answers were roughly identical while the individual answers were starkly different, he concluded that people conform to group norms when they’re put in an ambiguous situation.

In the 1950s, Solomon Asch continued to investigate the fragility of individuality in mass societies. When participants in a study were confronted with contrary opinions of the majority, his study showed that their tendency was to conform and adapt the more accepted opinion.

Basic perceptions would probably tell most responsible parents that it is not okay to sit their children on the lap of an old, bearded man in the middle of the mall. But as Asch’s experiment shows, majority trumps intuition. And when we’re unsure of how best to use our time, what to buy or how to help out, we simply look around.

So I guess what the holidays left me wondering was how our lives would be different if we didn’t fall victim to this compelling need to do what others are doing. What creative ways might we find to keep warm in absence of The North Face and Uggs? What other investments could be made with four years worth of hard work and tuition money?

Would action by choice prevail in lieu of the manipulation from the masses?

I think yes. But our culture neither backs this re-evaluation nor advocates careful examination of our decisions as free and fully responsible human beings.

Hinson Neville is a culture critic and freshman business major from Roanoke Rapids, N.C. Contact him at nevilleh@email.Unc.Edu.

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