So why, with the cornucopia of goodies now available to us, are blockbusters not just still here, but getting bigger? On the face of it, Anderson’s idea of a divergence of tastes in the digital era is logical. But if the long tail effect does not exist, or is not as pronounced as was thought, what is really going on?
Elberse says it’s a bit like the influence of multichannel television on the economics of sport. In the old days, if you wanted to watch soccer, you went to watch your local team in the flesh. Now, she says, in the UK you are more likely to decide to stay at home and watch Chelsea play Arsenal. This change of allegiance cuts the cash flowing into the ticket office of your local club while boosting advertising revenues for TV, which accrue disproportionately in favour of the already wealthy top clubs.
It is a phenomenon known to economists as the Matthew effect, after a quotation from the gospel of that name: “For unto every one that hath shall be given.” Just as for the long tail effect, there is a plausible explanation of why it should be happening in the modern media environment: easy digital replication and efficient communication through cellphones, email and social networking sites encourage fast-moving, fast-changing fads. The result is a homogenisation of tastes that boosts the chances of popular things becoming blockbusters, making the already successful even more successful.
The change in the way these children address their parents probably stems from baby boomers’ less authoritarian child-raising practices. Technology is a factor, too, given the offhand style that people use in instant messages and cellphone texts. The Internet has made people comfortable using names that are not their own - in particular, the frequent use of screen names online has made naming a bit more elastic, said Cleveland Evans, a psychology professor at Bellevue University in Nebraska who is a former president of the American Name Society, a group that studies the cultural significance of names. Screen names, he said, “might have made people freer to think of the same person addressed by multiple names, and that’s what nicknaming is.”