How does one connect Ukraine, watches, herd-mentality and even Palestine? Well, that’s essentially what I’ve done here. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, this is a topic that has overwhelmed every screen on earth for the last month, so I thought we could look into it a little more. The TLDR is this: When most people around you have a certain position, or believe one thing, then the cost of believing something else is extremely high.
You might have seen Elon Musk’s recent meme about “The Current Thing” on Twitter. This has ruffled feathers, largely because it insinuates that showing support towards a country being invaded is likely inauthentic or simply virtue signaling. That might be the most literal interpretation of the meme, but it can probably be interpreted in other ways – more specifically, the way in which people form their own ideas.
To understand this point, let’s first draw a parallel to something tangible. Consider the way people seek any new information or make purchases. Before the internet, if you wanted specific information you would go and seek it from sources you knew to be reputable. If you wanted to buy something, you would go to physical stores which you knew to be reputable, or which you knew employed helpful and knowledgeable sales staff who might help you with your purchase decision. Today, you simply use Google to find things out, or Amazon & reviews to buy what you need. In the watch collecting world, you can perhaps seek out the ‘best’ options via Instagram and watch collector chat groups or forums. That point is this: it is quite convenient to rely on the aggregation tools such as Google, Amazon and Instagram, so most people don’t bother going further, or making any additional effort.
So perhaps this is true for our ideas too? There is nobody who can be perfectly informed about all topics. It therefore seems quite reasonable to outsource our intuition about what issues should matter, and what our own take should be on these issues. This is the most convenient option after all, and the same holds true for watches as well. Granted, some things have more of a moral spin, often (but not always) making them easier to select as our preferred position. People dying from COVID, racist police killing people of colour, Russia invading Ukraine … these are “obviously bad”. Interestingly, Israel invading Palestine is the opposite, since Israel apparently “has a right to defend itself” – that’s the equivalent of calling Ukrainian freedom fighters terrorists… but people don’t, because that’s not the majority position here (whereas the opposite is true for Palestine).
This is basically what the meme is all about, to me. The internet will undoubtedly have pockets of people who criticise Black Lives Matter, COVID restrictions, or who are pro-Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; However, the way things work, is that the only position that overwhelmingly prevails is the dominant one. It is also why certain watches can be hated for a long time, and through a process of gradual adoption and normalisation, the very same ‘hated’ watches can become hyped and unobtainable. This is also why brands turn to influencers for marketing, because these people are more likely than most, to start the aforementioned ‘shifting of the narrative’.
In short, when most people around you have a certain position, or believe one thing, then the cost of believing something else is extremely high. This makes the ‘dominant’ or ‘consensus’ opinion the most viable and prevalent option. Even if you were pro-Russia in this war, there is no real value in speaking up, since a) most people who you speak to have openly taken the opposite position and therefore don’t agree with you and 2) are likely to chastise you for your views since they know that 99% of other people in your shared circles will back them if you try and fight it!
Applying this to watches, I am sure you’ve had some experience in this regard too… it tends to happen in waves. Consider the craze around Paul Newman Rolex Daytonas… they were at fever pitch around the time of the famous auction, when nobody would dare criticise them too strongly. Then came perhaps the Nautilus and Royal Oak craze, which perhaps still continues to this day… although the recent Tiffany dial has seemingly annoyed many Patek collectors. Now it seems to be the ‘indie craze’ phase, with Cartier, perhaps GP and potentially Bulgari joining the queue for being part of the in-crowd i.e. watches which have reached a ‘critical mass’ of adoption, such that it is no longer risk-free to talk trash about them (because too many people seem to own it and ‘like’ it), is increasingly likely to become unobtainable, and is likely to trade above retail prices .
I am not suggesting that any given ‘consensus’ is right or wrong… Going back to the meme, I just find there is something rather baffling about the emotion or sentiment surrounding issues that don’t necessarily apply in any meaningful or tangible way, to the people actually feeling the emotion or sentiment.
The upside of all of this, is that we come to realise over time, how “bad” ideas are in fact extremely valuable. They can highlight why the good ideas are better, and can also sometimes show that the previously “good” ideas are in fact completely wrong.
In this case, the previous beliefs about the 5711 being such a great watch and being worth 5-10x retail, are perhaps being shaken by the now ‘woke’ crowd discovering indies. The previous people who thought Palestinians were terrorists for defending their own land, can now look at Ukraine and see the same thing taking place, but with their support being on the oppressed, not the oppressor. This allows diversity of thought, enabling people to see perspectives which may never have become clear in any other manner.
Remember, there was once a time when believing that the earth was not the center of the universe was actually “bad” idea – yet, it was also correct!
That’s the thing about aggregation: one can understand how it works, and fall victim to its incentives. It seems natural then, to apply it to ideas, especially if we are sure they are correct!