For most people, the terms "trend" and "fad" are used interchangeably. When the media tell us "what's hot" they label them as trends. Someone who wears the latest fashions or has obscure new music on their iPod is called "trendy." But maybe they should be "faddy." This could be just a discussion of semantics, but perhaps there is a difference.
For that, we need look no further than sociologist Dr. Dre on "Encore," the title song from Eminem's latest album:
I'm a trend, I set one every time I'm in/ I go out and just come back full circle again/You a fad that means you something that we already had/ But once you're gone you don't come back/ Too bad, you're off the map now radar can't even find you.
In other words, fads are short-term fanaticisms; a blip in culture time whereby it seems the whole world is joined in the same craze. Exciting and electric as they are, they burn out fast. Witness the short-lived era of the Trucker Hat (2001-2003, depending on who you ask). Or Rubik's Cubes, virtual reality, grunge, day traders and countless others.
As Dre points out, fads are generally not missed once they are gone. We want fad amnesia, to forget them and bury them away. At least until the next generation revives them as retro goofs. That's because they stand for a certain point in time that we have moved past. Such as that third week in June two years ago when wearing a striped sweatband on my arm was the illest thing I could do. (Note: The term "illest" went out about that same time.)
Trends, though, may represent long-term changes or movements that are substantial to society. They become part of our DNA, even though they may begin with just a few people, the trendsetters. Trendsetters like the first geeks who began file sharing on the Internet in the mid-90s. They led to the digitalization of music, which has built new industries and changed the way most of us consume music. Or JFK, a trendsetter in many ways, who was credited with influencing men in the early 60s to go hatless. Since then, practically no one outside of a costume party, swing band or mafia film wears a Fedora.