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Crying wolf over standing ovations

I have watched several plays in the theatre, both in Bangalore and in Amsterdam. The big difference I see in the audience in the two cities is that the people in Amsterdam tend to deliver a standing ovation nearly every time while the audience in Bangalore is a lot more selective in dispensing such adulation.

This got me thinking as to why we dispense acts of praise and adulation in the first place. A standing ovation at the end of a theatre performance, a tip at the end of a meal at a restaurant, a clap at the end of reading an article on Medium, a like for the photos we see on Instagram, etc.

We seem to be a lot more generous in dispensing praise than is warranted in many of these cases.

As a result, I have started to take such praise with a pinch of salt.

It used to be the case that such responses indicated a 'superlative experience' - an incredible acting performance, a delightful service at a restaurant, a truly thought-provoking article. But nowadays, it is more of a hygiene.

A standing ovation or a good tip no longer says that the experience was superlative, but that it was just about good enough. The withholding of a tip or a standing ovation is now done when the service was atrocious or when the performance was downright poor. Which means that a lack of a tip or a standing ovation is seen as an unsatisfactory performance or service, and the performers and the waiters have come to expect it for merely doing their jobs.

There is also peer pressure that plays on our minds when we dispense with such adulation. When everyone else around you is standing up and clapping on and on, you wouldn't want to be the sore thumb sticking out and not do it. It is much simpler to go along with the crowd and be a part of the ovation even if the experience we had wasn't superlative.

This is a very important concept that is used in designing products that we use everyday - social proof and social nudging.

When you see ads on Facebook that says "Liked by ", it is the group dynamics of standing ovation at play. You will feel that little nudge to go along and like it too. And then someone else will be nudged based on your action and thus fall the dominoes. 

It is perfectly fine to have your own opinion and not go along with the crowd, but the more often we need to do it, the harder it gets. So, we fall in place and go along with it.

Until the day we break completely and stop going along with it.

So far, social nudging is working great for product design, but we often tend to attribute the reason to something else - better recommendations, better design, etc.

We need to be honest with ourselves as to why things work.

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