Creeping normality (also called landscape amnesia) is the way a major change can be accepted as a normal situation if it happens slowly through unnoticeable increments of change. The change could otherwise be regarded as objectionable if it took place in a single step or short period.
The phrase creeping normality was coined by American scientist Jared Diamond in his 2005 book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. He had previously alluded to this theory while attempting to explain why, in the course of long-term environmental degradation, Easter Island natives would, seemingly irrationally, chop down the last tree:
I suspect, though, that the disaster happened not with a bang but with a whimper. After all, there are those hundreds of abandoned statues to consider. The forest the islanders depended on for rollers and rope didn't simply disappear one day—it vanished slowly, over decades.
The concept of creeping normality has been used to explain a number of different phenomena, including the examples listed below:
Gun violence in the United States
Andrew Hammond, a writer for the Gulf News, invoked the concept in his February 2018 article "Mass shootings have started to look, sound and feel the same—and that's a problem". He wrote that mass shootings feature the same coverage of sobbing pairs of people, contemplative witnesses, night-time vigils, and prayer circles, and that there is a familiarity to all of it Hammond argues that, with the increasing number of major active shooter incidents occurring annually in the United States, the ubiquity of the events has begun producing its own distinctive aesthetic.
Antheaume and Barbelivien described the creeping normality that destroys businesses, causing them to not see the subtle, negative shifts in the community around them. The authors state that owners of family businesses are more likely to notice the small changes than a large corporation, although "detecting a problem is no guarantee of the ability to solve it".
In his thesis, Ki Chon states that the increase in cybercrime fits the pattern for creeping normality. The number of websites involved in "hacking and cybercrime activities" has increased at a slow and steady pace, mostly below society's awareness.
Flooding in Singapore
Peter Ho referred to creeping normality in his four-part IPS-Nathan lecture series in spring of 2017. In regard to several issues Singapore is facing, he claimed that "things get just a little bit worse each year than the year before, but not bad enough for anyone to notice". As an example, he used the increase in flooding in Singapore. He stated that the country did not realize the problem was caused by rising temperatures due to catastrophic climate change and not poor drainage, as first suspected.
Media in education
Researchers at the University of Central Florida looked into the evolving media landscape on the University's campuses and argued that there has been a gradual shift to offer more online classes, resources, and a technology and media-rich environment. They characterized the "ubiquitous presence of media and technology" on campuses as an example of creeping normality.
Alex de Waal has discussed the timescale over which disasters like famine occur. De Waal makes the point that governments and media outlets have a responsibility to recognise the underlying causes of famine and natural disaster, as opposed to focusing on the visibility of the crisis alone. He uses "landscape amnesia" to explain how a person or society may be shocked to realize the gradual changes that lead to disaster.
Obese and overweight maternity patients
Creeping normality has also been used to describe the increase of maternity patients who are obese and overweight. In their research article, authors Wilkinson, Poad, and Stapleton suggest that as the number of clinically obese or overweight pregnant women increase, the negative stigmatisation with being overweight decreases. Schmeid, et al. state that, as health care providers see more women with an unhealthy weight, they are less likely to advise healthy weight gain goals during pregnancy out of fear of fat-shaming. Physicians may not be aware that they are not addressing the gestational weight gain as soon as necessary. A survey conducted from January to April of 2010 of obstetrics and gynecology residents found that of those surveyed, only "7.6% selected correct BMI ranges for each category, and only 5.8% selected correct gestational weight gain ranges".
More recently, in an Australian study published in 2013, researchers surveyed maternity health care providers in Queensland and discovered a lack of knowledge of body mass index (BMI) and body weight guidelines for pregnant women. The lack of guideline knowledge was identified as a barrier to effective care, while the researchers also addressed the social stigma associated communicating guidelines and recommendations for overweight and obese pregnant patients. The study acknowledged that the stigmatisation traditionally associated with excessive weight is increasingly challenged by broader acceptance of overweight and obese people worldwide, something that has occurred slowly. As of 2013, people considered to be of a healthy weight were only 39.40% of the world's population.
There are a number of metaphors related to creeping normality, including:
- Boiling frog
- Camel's nose
- Defeat in detail
- "First they came ..."
- Foot-in-the-door technique
- Moving the goalposts
- Normalisation of deviance
- Overton window
- Principiis obsta
- Salami tactics
- Shifting baseline
- Slippery slope
- Technological change as a social process
- Tyranny of small decisions
- Change blindness
- Fogg GE, LaBolle EM (14 March 2006). "Motivation of synthesis, with an example on groundwater quality sustainability". Water Resources Research. 42: W03S05. doi:10.1029/2005WR004372 – via Google Scholar.
- Diamond, Jared (1995-08-01). "Easter's End". Discover magazine. Retrieved 2014-08-03.
- Mass shootings have started to look, sound and feel the same — and that's a problem. (2018). Gulf News, p. Gulf News, Feb 18, 2018.
- Antheaume N, Barbelivien D. "Why do family businesses die? An investigation through the work of an ethnologist and geographer on the collapse of human societies". Research Gate.
- Chon, Ki (2016). Cybercrime precursors: Towards a model of offender resources (PDF) (Thesis). Australian National University.
- Tan A, Ho P (2017). The Challenges of Governance in a Complex World. World Scientific Publishing Company Pte Limited. p. 11.
- Moskal, Patsy, Dziuban, Charles, Upchurch, Randall, Hartman, Joel, Truman, Barbara (Fall 2006). "Assessing Online Learning: What One University Learned about Student Success, Persistence, and Satisfaction". Association of American Colleges and Universities. 8: 26–29 – via ProQuest.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- De Waal, Alex. (2006). TOWARDS A COMPARATIVE POLITICAL ETHNOGRAPHY OF DISASTER PREVENTION. Journal of International Affairs, 59(2), 129-XIV.
- Wilkinson SA, Poad D, Stapleton H (May 2013). "Maternal overweight and obesity: a survey of clinicians' characteristics and attitudes, and their responses to their pregnant clients". BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 13: 117. doi:10.1186/1471-2393-13-117. PMC 3664593. PMID 23692981.
- Schmied VA, Duff M, Dahlen HG, Mills AE, Kolt GS (August 2011). "'Not waving but drowning': a study of the experiences and concerns of midwives and other health professionals caring for obese childbearing women". Midwifery. 27 (4): 424–30. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2010.02.010. PMID 20381222.
- Mills A, Schmied VA, Dahlen HG (July 2013). "'Get alongside us', women's experiences of being overweight and pregnant in Sydney, Australia". Maternal & Child Nutrition. 9 (3): 309–21. doi:10.1111/j.1740-8709.2011.00386.x. PMID 22168548.
- Miller M, Hearn L, van der Pligt P, Wilcox J, Campbell KJ (2014-06-06). "Preventing maternal and early childhood obesity: the fetal flaw in Australian perinatal care". Australian Journal of Primary Health. 20 (2): 123–7. doi:10.1071/PY13080. PMID 24176286.
- Moore Simas TA, Waring ME, Sullivan GM, Liao X, Rosal MC, Hardy JR, Berry RE (December 2013). "Institute of medicine 2009 gestational weight gain guideline knowledge: survey of obstetrics/gynecology and family medicine residents of the United States". Birth. 40 (4): 237–46. doi:10.1111/birt.12061. PMC 3974574. PMID 24344704.