Forgetting How to Live: How Social Media Influeners’ Indicate a Wider Problem
I was struck recently during yet another aimless scroll of the my Instagram that most of everything I was seeing was completely monotonous. I am an avid procrastinator, like many, and I am sure that I’m not the first, nor will I be the last person to fall foul to this phenomenon. I have a vague interest in makeup and beauty, and in addition to this have spent a large amount of my procrastination time perusing fitness and lifestyle blogs, in addition to accounts run, unfortunately, by reality TV stars from shows such as Made in Chelsea; a truly embarrassing guilty pleasure of mine.
It is common knowledge now that apps such as Instagram do use algorithms to present you with posts that are similar in content to other posts that you look at frequently, so you “don’t miss anything important.” This is also true of your discover area. What I did not realise was the potential impact this could be having on me personally. Why? Because many of the posts I view are that of so called social media influencer’s on beauty and health blogs.
If you are unfamiliar with this term, they are essentially individuals with a large number of followers, and therefore are highly desired brand representatives. Essentially, these people’s opinions hold a lot of sway, and what they have to say is eagerly lapped up by their vast online audience. This is why brands are so keen to get influencer’s to market their products. For example, 40 percent of Twitter users said they had made a purchase as a direct result of an influencer’s Tweet. This is a highly lucrative investment for brands and consequently, if you have 500,000+ followers on Instagram you can earn $3000+ from brands every time you post a picture in which you are shown using or displaying a product of theirs.
Why would this be having an impact on me personally? Because every other post I now view whilst I compulsively browse Instagram is an influencer telling me which clothes to buy, what I should eat, even what I should use if I wanted to bleach my teeth.
Why has this happened?
It is clear to me that these social media influencer’s are symptomatic of a far more sinister problem in society. Why am I compulsively scrolling through these beauty and lifestyle blogs? Perhaps it is because I have grown up in a society where there is a step by step list of instructions for every facet of life.
We grew up with constant health a safety regulations, we were weighed at school, we were taught “how to pass exams.” Family home and personal life was intruded upon at every point by a long list of well meaning experts to tell you how to live. So perhaps we, the social media generation, because of unprecedented levels of external influence on our lives, look to social media influencer’s to tell us what to wear, how to act, and possibly after all, how to think. Humans are of course by nature social learners, so I’m not suggesting that looking to others to see how you should act is a totally new phenomenon, but it would seem that due to the internet, it is now possible for us to be influenced from dawn til dusk via our smart phones.
We crave instruction, and influencer’s are the perfect source.
We have grown up, due to a list of instructions being there for everything, expecting that if we follow these instructions, that we can achieve anything, and that in doing so, we can be happy. However, none of these instructions tell you anything about you as an individual, how you will react to things, and how you will cope and make sense of the world in times of hardship. We are thoroughly setting ourselves up for disappointment.
So what does this mean?
So why is this such a bad thing? Being told how to think and how to live strips us of the countless possibilities for meaningful experiences we could have eked out for ourselves. Historian Christopher Lasch says being consumers of “expert” advice diminishes our self respect. Furthermore in obsessing over the less important components of life such as types of food and makeup, we remain utterly self interested and incapable of serving others.This is the first problem.
Furthermore, the more time we spend online, the more it just reflects back to us what we want to see, like a mirror, which contributes to us becoming more self-absorbed and out of touch with what different groups are thinking. This is of course in the case of Instagram, being presented with pictures of what we want to see. But more worryingly this can also be the case with news and opinion. Doesn’t this just ensure that our own personal online world will just confirm back to us what we already know? The combination of this with our already increasing self-interest has already led to neo-fascist groups gaining prominence. It is not impossible to imagine a scenario where more groups with more extreme views are able to gain prominence as many of us exist in a super imposed liberal bubble, so both our views and their views go unchecked.
The second problem is that with this constant stream of high ideals presented straight to us at all times, there is an unconscious expectation for us to behave a certain way, and the inevitability that we will never live up to the same high ideals. Many of us now rely on validation received online to sustain our self-esteem. We see social media influencer’s getting serious amounts of validation online, and we want it for ourselves. This is creating an epidemic of digital narcissism.
So, we as a generation have had unprecedented levels of external influence over our lives as are more likely to continue to seek out information that is instructive. This lack of engagement is making us lazy and unwilling to seek out information which actively contradicts our world view. It is also making us more narcissistic and self-interested. It is hard to say with absolute certainty whether these characterisics of human nature have created social media as we know it now, or if social media is now highlighting and extending these instincts; but we can all agree that they are not a good thing. We will have to decide for ourselves if we like the world we are creating on and offline.
I must admit I came to this unit rather sceptical. I am a self-confessed social media pessimist and have a general dislike for what I thought of as the over reliance on technology for everything. However I rather strongly believe that one ought to learn about what one doesn’t understand. I thought I might upon learning about the digital world have my opinion changed or overcome some personal weaknesses with technology. I am happy to say that I have found the experience enlightening; have come to appreciate in a more real way the value of many types of technology, rejecting my previous position as arrogant and stuck in my ways. I suppose I only held that position as I was unwilling to engage with new types of technology. Additionally, I have learned a number of valuable skills which I have been able to use on a blog I administer.
Firstly, I should mention how I think it’s important to note how I felt the way the assignments were structured enabled me to improve academically, by learning new skills each time. Firstly, I feel it was set up so that you would receive your worst grade on your first assignment which was worth only 10% as you did not possess all the skills required yet. As an example, I did not get my top mark for digisoc1, as I did not yet know how to attribute images, however as it was such a core requirement of digisoc2, there was a lot of support on hand for me to learn about it. Additionally, I had received feedback from digisoc1. Due to the development of this new skill I achieved highly in digisoc2, receiving the top mark for the image attribution and digital communication element. Consequently, this new skill has been completely invaluable to the mental health blog for Open Mind Network, a mental health society which I am partially responsible for administering. The blog now looks professional, has engaging pictures and most importantly, they are properly referenced, and has amassed over 500 followers now.
Furthermore it’s important to note my one track mind throughout the course as I have continued to want to research and discuss mental health. I suppose this is not unreasonable considering it is an area of particular interest to me as I wish to pursue a career involving mental health. However the course has enabled me to consider mental health from a digital perspective. For example, in my digisoc2 post I was able to explore and consider how mental health provisions and services at University could modernise, resulting in my idea to include online instant messaging services. I am sure that this course will have given me a unique perspective for me embarking on my career, for example if I end up working with disadvantaged young people I will be better informed of the challenges facing them on social media.