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 readers.)
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.
photo: chuck revell