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The Originality Fallacy

5/02/24

Last newsletter, we discussed the idea of “IT” — Taste — and whether one can learn it or must simply be born with it.

While that conversation is a fun and frivolous exercise in the nonsensical, there is a very interesting phenomenon that’s come as a result of our culture’s current obsession with attempting to buy good personal taste rather than develop it over time:

We’ve all become quite unoriginal!

Whether you believe someone is born with taste or can learn it, the reality of today’s chronically online culture is that anyone — with a few TikTok and Google searches — can piece together the facade of well-considered personal opinions on culture, politics, wine, music, food, fashion, and interior design!

The irony of this unfettered access to this rapidly growing and evolving pool information is that we all have the same level of access. Any of us can quickly understand what’s trendy, what’s “cooked”, and whether or not it’s cheugy to engage with it (a made up word that’s already run it’s way through the rinse cycle and is fully “washed” in and of itself).

The added layer of complexity here is that anyone can dig deeper than the ostensible discovery of said trends to the point of understanding their place in history, and why they hold significance for us today. With two clicks and a minute of skimming, someone can turn on their phone’s camera and create a 30 second video that paints them not only as a professorial figure on the matter, but also as someone who has known about this information for quite some time — in other words, someone with well-developed and long-standing taste!

So what happens when one creator does this? It sparks another creator to add their take on the idea… and another, and another. Before too long, you have 100 different creators making marginally different videos about young Harrison Ford’s outfits in the 70s and 80s, how maximalism in interior design in the 90s can create warmth in your home today, and even comedy videos with everyone yelling “don’t leave me, don’t leave me”. Before you know it, we all know the funniest jokes, the best cocktails for summer, 5 tricks for making your charcuterie look like a floral arrangement, and that double-duvet method that makes your bed look like a 5 star hotel’s!

This is a conundrum for the terminally online, to be sure, but the ramifications present themselves when you put this mass-access to information on 1.5 x speed like a podcast you’re listening to for self-improvement rather than pleasure.

The democratization of information (doi), plus our collective desire to appear to have taste (T), multiplied by the trend cycle velocity (tcV) results in a homogenized echo-chamber of culture where everyone who looks “cool” is doing the same things while simultaneously praising each other for their own creativity and taste. This leads us to a place where the “it crowd” are all wearing big pants and lauding their “proportions”, daydreaming of open floor plans while having no idea which wall they want to knock down is load bearing, and ordering negroni spagliato before they’ve ever tried a classic negroni.

This pattern is not new — eg, the not-so-distant-past obsession with modern farmhouse interiors, hair extensions, and high waisted, distressed jeans that became meme-ified for it’s mass adoption — but the current rate at which these things happens feels not only faster, but also louder due to our collective access to them! Beyond that, it’s more difficult to discern the experts from the mood board algorithm junkies who regurgitate information rather than uncover it. And because everyone is so convinced that they’ve got the right version of the right answer, there’s very little clarity on whether this plagiarism is on purpose or accident.

The truth is, this formula (doi + T x tcV = HE-CC) is an unavoidable one for most to partake in. Unless you’ve actually been around the block a few times or choose simply to abstain from online discourse (which is not an option for folks like us whose job it is to observe and report), you’re likely going to catch wind that people are opting for the Gazelle over the Samba these days for fear of appearing like they jumped on the trend bandwagon. This sort of information, even if whispered or theorized, becomes part of how you consume clothes and view your personal style — unless of course you’re one of the rare breed we discussed last month, in which case you’ve likely already found the next shoe we’ll all be pining after next year!

Of course, this is all less a tragedy, and more a natural biproduct of life as we now know it. These things were bound to happen, but the real issue is that there’s little-to-no citing of the sources in this digital world. The problem then is the constant peddling of belief or projection of belief that an idea or concept is original.

This is what we affectionately refer to as the Originality Fallacy: the conviction — whether by delusion, ignorance, or blatant lies — that one was the first to discover or apply a concept or idea, especially in interiors or fashion.

Where some people naturally unearth new trends almost by accident, others are in a rush to manufacture trends or “make fetch happen” almost by sheer power of will. In their eagerness (er, thirst), one strives to convince others that they had never heard of wall molding before they themselves started doing it, or that they used to listen to Hozier on Soundcloud before he made it big, or that they were way ahead of the game on owning a Carhartt Detroit jacket. This brings us back to one of the issues of our current cultural environment: even if we don’t believe them, we can’t prove them wrong!

This is why we want to start normalizing citing your sources. You almost certainly weren’t the first to try something, and you probably won’t be the last! So why are we in a rush to be first to a trend? Is there even such a thing as originality? History would tell us there’s nothing new, and that every trend is a recycled facsimile of another recycled facsimile. Shouldn’t that be relieving, and even freeing? To know that there’s no pressure to be first, because we’re all a few decades late for that sort of thing.

Ironically, I actually think the creative freedom that would come from the refreshing approach of not trying to reinvent the wheel every season would open us all to a world of innovation and nuance! Rather than being tunnel visioned on solving a problem or creating something wholly unique (both of which are very difficult, if not impossible), what if creators just focused on creating something beautiful or excellent, whether that thing was new or not? I think that freedom of thought, unincumbered by the echo-chamber, trend cycle, or hype arms race, could allow a lot of space for someone to do something truly special!

With all of this said, we encourage you to beware of the Originality Fallacy. Embrace our communal lack of uniqueness. Give credit where credit is due. And rest easy knowing that it’s not on us to uncover the unseen, but rather to create something beautiful through the only truly unique thing any of us has: our own perspective.

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