(Or ‘Six Degrees of Vaperation’)
Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, was published in 2000. In it, Gladwell defines a tipping point as:
“the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”
Gladwell suggests that “ideas and products and messages and behaviours spread like viruses do.” He cites examples such as the significant increase in sales and the rise in popularity of Hush Puppies in the 1990s, and the significant reduction in the New York City crime rate after 1990.
Essentially, he is talking about epidemics, for which he describes three rules:
1. The Law of the Few
“The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.”
According to Gladwell, economists call this the “80/20 Principle, which is the idea that in any situation roughly 80 percent of the ‘work’ will be done by 20 percent of the participants.”
It strikes me as highly likely that the now significant number of vapers regularly involved in the various forums, together with the many and varied bloggers and activists, could well represent this all important 20%. (Obviously, this would also include the many hard-working and dedicated vendors, working in a very difficult regulatory climate to build businesses serving all of our vaping needs. )
It is probably not an understatement to suggest that 80% of people using electronic cigarettes are not even aware of much of this activity, and are just happy to have found their own personal path to vaping, by whatever means.
2. The stickiness factor
Gladwell describes this in terms of the specific content of a message that renders its impact memorable. I don’t know what the rest of you think, but I reckon one of the most significant moments for every vaper is that first puff, and the dawning realisation that this is it: the solution to a problem you didn’t even necessarily realise was a problem! Most vapers will have introduced someone else to vaping. These vapers will remember how dramatic that moment is – the look on the person’s face, as they recognise the (desperately unscientific, I know) Miracle Moment.
That, I believe, is at least part of the ‘stickiness factor’ with vaping.
3. The power of context
“Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur.”
OK, so let’s examine the ‘conditions and circumstances of the times and places’ surrounding the astonishing rise of vaping across the world. (If Carl Phillips had the time and/or the inclination, I would be hugely grateful if he were to conduct a properly scientific epidemiological analysis of this. I am not Carl Phillips, so this is purely conjecture. I leave it to my readers to decide whether I’m on to something or not.)
We know that the vast majority of vapers have made the switch from smoking. Most of us were heavy smokers, often over several years – in many cases, decades. Over the decades of our smoking we have gone from an environment (wherever we lived in the world) where smoking was ‘normal’. It was something most people did. It wasn’t regarded as a huge issue, even though we were all aware that there were some health risks associated with it. OK, we knew it was seriously dangerous. But we liked smoking, and most people smoked, so it was easy enough to ignore any nagging doubts about health risk.
Then the tide changed. Suddenly a new agenda came down from the higher ups: denormalise smokers. We saw the introduction of smoking bans in public places. We were exposed to mass media advertising campaigns of significant breadth and size, aimed at re-educating us: smoking, which we had all been enjoying for however long, was BAD. Really bad. And we needed to stop.
But we liked it. We didn’t all want to stop.
So the higher ups ramped it up a notch or 70. They started accusing us of being bad parents; of being socially irresponsible; of being revolting to kiss; of being bad lovers; of killing people around us. They literally pushed us out into the cold. You remember.
They put revolting graphic images on our cigarette packets. They set about training our children through the school system to judge their parents and find them wanting. In short, they dehumanised us.
And what ‘solution’ did they offer us? NRT, with its abysmal failure rates. Oh sorry – or death.
But then we discovered electronic cigarettes – a hallelujah moment no matter what your belief system.
There’s another theory, even older than Gladwell’s, which speaks directly to those of us who vape:
“Diffusion of Innovations is a theory that seeks to explain how, why and at what rate new ideas and technology spread through cultures. Everett Rogers, a professor of rural sociology, popularized the theory in his 1962 book Diffusion of Innovations. He said diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system. […]
This process relies heavily on human capital. The innovation must be widely adopted in order to self-sustain. Within the rate of adoption, there is a point at which an innovation reaches critical mass.
“The diffusion of innovations according to Rogers. With successive groups of consumers adopting the new technology (shown in blue), its market share (yellow) will eventually reach the saturation level.”
Is it any wonder that we may well have gone beyond critical mass, the ‘Tipping Point’?
Vaping’s gone viral!
And as a final thought, I’d like to leave you with this: Mark Penn’s book Microtrends (2007) “examines how small ideas can catch fire and lead to big changes. For example, Penn shows how a mere one percent of the American public, or 3 million people, can create a ‘microtrend’ capable of launching a major business or even a new cultural movement, changing commercial, political and social landscapes.”
We can do this, my friends. We can change the world. In fact, we’re already doing it.