Viral leadership: pirates take off, hunger doesn't

The Net enables a new form of leadership - changing people's behaviour/behavior through the viral spread of an idea or a 'meme' as Richard Dawkins and others have called it, at an accelerated pace compared with pre-Net days. The connectedness provided by the Net provides a kind of souped up medium or accelerator for leading changes in how people behave.

So, I'll repeat a question I asked this time last year. 'Talk like a pirate day' took off from a spontaneous drunken conversation in a bar between two friends, who then put the idea on the Net, and claimed last year to have several million people involved. Net claims of 'several million' usually have to be trimmed back by 90% or so, but that still leaves a vast number of people who spent last Friday, September 19th, talking like a pirate.

Then there's flashmobbing and other examples of de-centralized leadership, usually co-ordinated initially by one person, but quickly taken over by the collective, so there seems to be an act of 'common mind' going on: a group of people thinking and acting as one.

And here's the 'but'. So, if Talk Like A Pirate Day gets millions of people involved each year, how come The Hunger Site, where you click to provide food for hungry people at no cost, seems to have plateaued at around 150,000 clicks a day for the past few years?

What is it about talking like a pirate for a day that's more compelling than clicking for a couple of seconds to stop someone being hungry? That's not an outraged, self-righteous criticism of everyone who talked like a pirate. It's just bafflement. When The Hunger Site first appeared, I was emailed about it by people from all over the world. And I did my share of excited "Hey have you seen this? The Net could change the world here?!" emailing myself.

But, millions of people don't click each day. Curious.

And just to be a killjoy: The only reason pirates, in every film ever made since Robert Newton played the archetypal pirate Long John Silver in Treasure Island, speak with an 'Ooohhh' and an 'Arrrrr' and the word 'matey' and all those other piratical cliches the cast of Pirates of The Caribean adopted with zeal, and millions of people were using last Friday, is not because pirates really talked like that. It's because Robert Newton chose to give his pirate an exaggerated Cornish (West of England) accent in the old black and white movie. And every actor who had to play a pirate in a movie after just copied Newton.