The Letterman Question


Here's a piece I did for the CASRO 2012-13 Journal
(based on my keynote at their annual gathering in Scotssdale (page
42ff) based on an idea that the brilliant Grant McCracken gave me when I
last had lunch with him:

"TV chat show host David Letterman used to
play a game with his audience as he sifted the day’s ephemera, asking this
simple question of the things he (and his researchers) found to point and laugh
at: is this anything? Or, is it nothing? In other words, is the
object, behaviour or utterance significant and suggestive of an important
trend? Or, is it merely junk? Should we be paying attention to it or should we
smile and nod at contemporary culture’s richness as it sweeps past our noses"

So let's ask ourselves before we start "…what
kind of thing
is the phenomenon we are studying and
seeking to explain [or change]? Is it something shaped by the agency of individuals acting
independently of their peers or is it something that’s shaped primarily by
social means – by the influence of others other than the individual?"

What kind of thing is this?