Hula Hoops, Cabbage Patch Kids, and pet rocks are often dismissed as nothing more than silly, fleeting frivolities. But in the new non-fiction book Trending: How and Why Stuff Gets Popular, Norma Fleck Award–winning author Kira Vermond argues that following the latest fad “can have major, far-reaching, and long-term impacts on our lives.”
Vermond examines various crazes throughout history that have consumed our attention, like 2016’s summer of Pokémon Go (“a game so hot it spread around the world in a matter of days”). Also included are a few flash-in-the-pans that defied better judgment, such as the 1910 hobble skirt that rocked fashion but made walking difficult. All of these random fads have some characteristics in common: they appear out of nowhere, quickly generate a lot of hoopla, peak quickly, and often fade into oblivion.
Vermond cuts through the hype and presents a level-headed investigation into the under-lying economic, psychological, and marketing forces that enable a fad to catch fire. Decision-making traps like information cascades, sunk cost fallacy, and the mere-exposure effect are explained in easy-to-understand language, with selected sources included in the backmatter. The pithy, conversational tone is informative without being condescending: “Research shows that while adults buy into trends to impress other people, kids generally follow fads because they want to fit in. That’s understandable. No one wants to be left out!”
Spot illustrations and full-page comic strips by Toronto graphic artist Clayton Hanmer reinforce the concepts with satiric verve. His rendition of a Beanie Baby gone bad, kitted out with a spiky collar, fangs, and a hint of drool, just might spark a new obsession.
Vermond employs sharp-witted and thoughtful analysis to demonstrate that fads are not all fun and games. Short-lived food trends have led to financial ruin for farmers, and anti-vaccination movements affect public health. On the other hand, the power of the crowd can be harnessed to increase charitable giving and encourage voter participation. This savvy, eye-opening exposé ends on a galvanizing note, urging readers to use their newly acquired “insider knowledge about fads to make the world a better, kinder, and happier place!” –Linda Ludke