Part two – The lonely Crowd, how the concept works today.
If we look carefully we may still see glimpses of all three groups still operating in modern society. Various social forces and changes keep people moving through the two main groups, while the Tradition-Directed group still pops up, usually as part of a carefully controlled religious/idealistic movement, either small or large. We can think of some of the religious sects as an example.
Although society has gone through several changes since the 1950’s marketers today need the Other-Directed group to continue to copy what others buy and to “keep up with the Joneses”. They exploit these tendencies, especially now through social media where people have to have “likes” to encourage social intimacy and feel “loved” or at least liked virtually. Social media is also a wonderful way of finding out what the others are having, doing, buying or thinking. Google analyses all the demographic data and trends for marketing purposes.
Inner-Directed people however, have always valued their privacy, with the needs of Other-Directed people being seen as intrusive as they seek to define themselves by “the other”, copying their tastes in all manner of things. Those Inner-Directed people who do not like their private details shown openly for example in a Facebook Account may be seen as “suspicious” by others. But not joining with some social media group is a way the Inner-Directed person can put a buffer between him or herself to avoid the intrusion of the other.
Tradition-Directed groups are usually “protected” against outside influences, and therefore do not move forward with the fluidity of the other two groups. They are often not exposed to the same market forces as the other two groups.
We can explore how groups of people can be manipulated by the media and market forces, with the Other-Directed probably being more influenced than other groups.
Social media is a hot one with “compare and copy” behaviour operating without anyone even thinking about what is actually going on. Millions of people visit Facebook pages daily to see what their friends and others are doing, saying, or buying, and how they are behaving with their friends and family. It seems to be of the utmost importance to many people who are Other-Directed and who will change their behaviour, their thinking, or buying practices to conform to others.
Other forms of media like television, magazines, or billboard advertising are all directed towards enticing those in the Other-Directed group to buy something, perhaps something they don’t really want or need. This consumerism feeds into the hundreds of other elements necessary to produce and process new goods, with the ultimate long-term end of all this being a huge pile of waste and the consequences of that.
Other-Directedness on a more personal level
Being Other-Directed at Work
Think how you personally can be easily manipulated by your friends or colleagues at work, or by your boss because you need to be loved or at least liked a bit more.
Needing approval, you put in longer, usually unpaid hours at work. Notice if the boss gives you stuff to do at the last minute, fully aware that you will have to stay behind to finish it! Notice also how you can be influenced by others in a team to do more than your fair share because of your need to be liked.
See how readily you agree to do many things for the same reason, even if you don’t really want to do these things. It is a partly a lack of awareness, plus a lack of assertiveness, but it is also the need for approval, for conformity, to be “the same”, an intimate part of “the group.” There is also the fear of disapproval operating here. The need for approval and the fear of disapproval are a powerful twin force for conformity.
Being a non-conformist today is interesting, because there are so many sub-groups who want to be different and who do not want to conform. Take teenagers for example, they want to rebel against their parents and others, and old rules or values, but end up mostly being the same as their peers, even dressing the same. A marketer’s delight! The sweat-houses in third world countries churn out trillions of jeans with holes in the knees that will remain in vogue for a time until the group decides on something different. Teens are especially vulnerable to being other-directed by their own peer group, and keep anxiously glued to social media to find out the latest trends in thinking.
Even those in the slightly older age bracket who “follow their dreams”, or “follow their passion” often largely follow others doing the same. They are still watching others and copying them, desiring the same experience, and of course the approval of their own peers. If they fail to succeed in their “passion” then they are likely to feel anxiety.
Where I live it is the thing to be seen wearing your sketchers, ¾ white pants, a striped top with a jumper hung around the neck. This is all accessorised with a Golden Retriever dog while sitting outside a café sipping coconut water (it used to be Chai tea). This is “the look”.
Some smaller sub-groups desire publicity for a cause and become “professional protesters”, often looking and thinking much the same as each other. On a personal level they hand over their minds to the cause of the group and never look for outside ideas that may contrast or contradict what the group thinks. Thus conformity becomes an easy path rather than a deliberate and rebellious act.
Some seeking freedom in a movement may find “freedom” is an elusive and illusory notion and the chains of past beliefs, behaviour, values and attitudes plus the desires of the peer group are not so easily left behind.
On a very personal relationship level
Conformity often begins in a family, where a child is socialised to behave or suffer the consequences of disapproval or the fear of disapproval. A child quickly learns that parents and relatives have power, and make the rules, and create values and attitudes which are all absorbed in order to conform and please. Children usual conform until they become teenagers when according to whatever style of parenting they have received they may rebel against the strong control and rules. Others may learn “helplessness”, knowing that they can’t escape.
Those that have been forced to conform often choose partners who carry on from where the parents left off, and are often treated as a person without any rights, and are at risk for maltreatment if they do not conform and please the dominant other. Being Other-Directed then becomes a way of life, and a way of self-protection.
The Autonomous Style
Riesman also put forward a notion of “The Autonomous Style” where an individual, after much rational thought could develop clear and personal goals. Like the Inner-Directed person he could cooperate with the majority while also keeping his own private judgement about what was happening in society. But according to his own ideals and thinking, he could conform or not conform.
A person with this Autonomous style could theoretically be more free than people in other groupings, having more self-awareness and being less likely to be unconsciously directed by others. However, most behaviour is unconscious, and the first rule of sociology is “things are not what they seem”, and the first rule of psychology is “all behaviour has a meaning. It is very difficult for us to be fully aware of the forces in society pushing us to and fro, and we usually display a mix of at least 3 types of behaviour at times, if not 4.
Society is obviously always a mix of these types, and one is not necessarily better or worse than the other. The key thing is knowing how group thinking may dominate and influence you without your awareness.
Marketing companies employ hundreds of psychologists and sociologists to help them manipulate the minds of millions of people via the many media channels, and this is something to always remain aware of.
See the questions below to decide if you are Other-Directed, Inner-Directed Tradition-Directed or Autonomous.
How often do you find yourself buying the same article that your friends have, either clothing, computers, or mobiles?
How autonomous do you believe yourself to be, that is are you are able to rationally and freely choose your own goals and beliefs and act on these?
Are you still heavily influenced by the ideals, ideas and values of your family?
If you belong to a religious group are you able to do your own thinking?
Would you consider the group to be open or closed to new ideas?
If you are in an ideologically based group would they still approve of you if you had a different opinion on some of their beliefs?
Do you think people these days have substituted the need of family’s love or a God’s love for being loved and approved of by others in their group of influence?
Do you think people today have moved away from traditional values and beliefs?
What do you think they have found as a substitute?
© Kathleen Crawford 2017
NB The description of Riesman’s notion of The Lonely Crowd is necessarily brief, but you could read his books for a more complete outline of the research.