Life According To a Mathematical Algorithm

In case you hadn’t noticed we have been living our lives dictated by the rules of an exponential curve. This may also be described as a Power Law, a Pareto or a 1/x curve and as Chris Anderson tells us “[…] It turns out to be absolutely ubiquitous; in human affairs, economies and nature itself”. Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who came up with the 80 – 20 concept proposing that 20% of products, for example movies or songs, will be hits and the other 80% of product, will have very little exposure or none at all. You may view this as an unparalleled calamity or just as a problem, however whichever way you view it, of all the ‘things’ created in this world, only 20% are likely to become known to us. Who has had possession of this tremendous power? Well, until the digital age happened, manufacturers, producers and suppliers. Now it is quite common to hear, “where did you get that, oh my God. That is amazing!” And the response to this question-“yup isn’t it great, I got it online”. Where is this place online? Well, it is everywhere and nowhere and the most important thing- product is represented digitally and can be ordered digitally. Think about it. We can have access to a monumental range of products simply by “going online”.

As Chris Anderson explains the 20% of hits translates to the 20% of products produced or ideas that are created chosen by manufacturers as being hits or top sellers. Anderson says that this process of selection has “truncated” our culture. The Internet has “unlimited shelf space” and can be accessed by almost anyone anywhere. Imagine if you wanted to start a new subculture wearing only outfits covered in dung beetle motives – you could! Anderson describes the 80% as the “latent market that we were missing [,] because we couldn’t reach it”. The Internet has returned to us a prodigal market, one that was lost, and now is found. The long tail is wagging and it is likely to knock us all over with its size. Another common question of today’s digital age is, “have you looked for it on the net?” Anderson says about Netflix, “it has […] broken the tyranny of physical space”. We can apply this to the Internet in general and it is not only space we have access to. We have unlimited choice and if we are creative, we have a venue for that creativity right in our own home.


Anderson, C 2004, ‘The Long Tail’, Wired, online magazine, 12 October, viewed 17 November 2014,<>

Anderson, C 2006, Identifying “The Long Tail”, vodcast, 5 December, Fora TV, viewed 19 November, 2014,<;


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