Lately I’ve been thinking about the word “mainstream” and what it means. Princeton’s WordNet defines mainstream as “the prevailing current of thought” while Merriam-Webster defines mainstream as “a prevailing current or direction of activity or influence”. I think many people have a different definition however, something more akin to the one at UrbanDictionary:
Mainstream is what’s the new trend. When one "style" gets old, a new one is reborn; a mainstream person is someone who jumps from trend to trend so that they fit in with the rest of the crowd.
That definition has 514 positive votes and only 51 negative votes. There are a few others there too, but that one is the most popular. The definition at Wiktionary is similar.
Two recent articles got me thinking about this. On October 27th, the Wall Street Journal said that Twitter is going mainstream:
When the service first appeared a couple of years ago, its appeal seemed largely limited to narcissists who wanted to let everybody know what they were doing in real time. But, like blogs and social-networking sites, Twitter is starting to cross into the mainstream, as a wide range of people find interesting uses for the brief notes.
Is the WSJ right? Has Twitter crossed into the mainstream? I think that depends on which definition you use. Based on the one in the dictionary, I’d say they’re wrong.
The second article was from The Economist. They say blogging is mainstream now too:
Blogging has entered the mainstream, which—as with every new medium in history—looks to its pioneers suspiciously like death.
Hold on a sec – blogging has only just entered the mainstream? If that’s true, how can Twitter possibly be considered mainstream? Seems the “mainstream” media have different definitions for the word too!
Maybe everyone has a different definition for the word? I think it all depends on what your litmus test is. For instance:
- Has Twitter been mentioned on TV and in the newspaper? Yes, it’s mainstream.
- Does anyone make money using Twitter? Yes, it’s mainstream.
- Do my parents use Twitter regularly? No, it’s not mainstream.
- Do all of my friends use Twitter? No, it’s not mainstream.
- Will a random person on the street know what Twitter is? No, it’s not mainstream.
I think that’s pretty close to what my litmus test is. Replace “Twitter” with “Google” or “Facebook” and all of the answers are yes.
What’s your test? How do you define mainstream?