We’re not individuals all of the time; we’re occasionally herd animals, sometimes like flotsam sometimes like wheat, and yes, occasionally the lone wolf.
I’ve been noticing how people behave when a train’s approaching. Ok, it is usually during rush hour, with that 8am grogginess or 6pm urgency that I notice this, but it’s a valid enough time to observe collective behavior.
It brings to mind the interesting point that when it comes to observing our online behavior, we are simultaneously individual and collective in our patterns. We act on our own but are affected by the ebb and flow of other users in our motions and choices.
Take for example the train chasing shuffle. This is the condition where, as the train slows into the station, people feel the need to slowly shuffle towards the door that has just passed them. Even when the next door along is going to stop right in front of them, or will be much closer than the door they are chasing, they’ll follow the train along the platform.
At first I thought it was some sort of magnetic or gravitational force, the train pulling us along with it’s substantial mass or metallic might, but that doesn’t hold up.
A force far greater than either seems to be pulling us along.
So the question is: are we being pulled, are we influencing each other, is it the actions of one of us pulling the others along?
Perhaps it is a combination of all of these answers and more, a subtlety we cannot clarify easily. As someone who likes to understand engagement, attention, usability and user flow, these are the questions I have.