Even within our primary areas of interest, most of us will discover niche, sub-interests that we find endlessly fascinating.
For instance, KPU psychology student and animal lover Patricia Naguiat is drawn specifically to researching meerkats. Because they’re her favourite animal, she knows that they are a matriarchal species, that a group of them is called a mob, and that each mob has a female meerkat in charge.
“If the alpha female has a baby, she makes the beta females nurse them, and if any of the other females have a baby, the alpha female will banish them or kills the baby,” says Naguiat. “Meerkats are fucking gnarly.”
We are drawn to particular niches within our wider range of interests because we can closely identify with the specific elements we find there. The more niche the subject, the more it feels unique to us specifically. In a lot of cases, we might even aim to become part of those niches ourselves.
For example, as part of my passion for music, I am particularly obsessed with the DIY approach to recording. Musically, there’s no one I admire more than artists who can do it all themselves. To me, self-recorded artists such as Flatsound, Mac DeMarco, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Tame Impala hold an almost superhuman status. The amount of dedication, patience, creativity, and perhaps even a little bit of madness that goes into making an entire record entirely by yourself is something I cannot help but to marvel at.
It absolutely blows my mind to think that a single human being not only wrote and performed all of the different instruments on a track, but also managed to master the entirely separate skills of recording and sound engineering themselves.
In some cases, niche interests inform our studies and professions as well. Creative writing student Claire Stevens has occasionally written about her specific interest in urban exploration of abandoned buildings.
“I started with abandoned houses around Abbotsford, Chilliwack, and Hope,” she explains. “My friend group had a lot of photographers who went to take pictures. I suck at photography, but I like the empty houses and I like imagining what used to be there. It makes me feel connected to the past in a way.”
Similarly, DIY recording is not just a style I’ve grown to appreciate as an audiophile. Many elements of the craft have informed the music I make. To date, my proudest accomplishment is a song that I wrote, recorded, mixed, and mastered entirely myself, which has accumulated just over 13,000 Spotify listens. Without getting into the self-recording niche, I wouldn’t have had the knowledge I used to develop and hone those skills.
Another interesting thing about niche interests is that they reflect our values. Anthropology and sociology enthusiast Mariah Negrillo-Soor explains her interest in the history of the bicycle, and how the invention reshaped North-American society. It’s the democratizing, progressive nature of this niche that intrigues her the most.
“Circa 1895, when bicycles were becoming popular in America, preachers and other religious leaders saw it as an evil invention from the devil himself because of how it was truly a revolution in how people got around and socialized,” she says. “It was something everyone could learn to ride, closing the gap between classes, genders, and age.”
Maybe the niches we are fascinated by indicate our hopes for the world around us and for ourselves, whether it’s in the unapologetic dominance of female meerkats, the fearlessness of exploring abandoned buildings, or the social progression made using the modern bicycle.