By: Mohammad Alam
Let me take you back to a scene from the hit sitcom, “The Office.” It occurs in season 4 episode 9, where the viewer is greeted with Dwight, an aloof and unorthodox character, showing up to work only to spend time on his computer. Unlike most other employees, Dwight is not actually doing any work. Dwight spends his time on his computer playing, “Second life,” a video game made to emulate the real world – only that it’s not the real world. It’s a virtual world. Throughout the episode, the antagonizing character, Jim, starts to understand the value of this virtual world. A world where you can be whoever you want, make whatever changes in your life and you see them to be rather instant. This is as opposed to where in the real world, if you want to look a certain way, achieve certain awards – time is needed.
The reason why I brought up that certain episode is to make a parallel from the world we currently live in and how it’s shaping who we are. From here onwards I’ll use instagram and social media synonymously, considering it has the second highest (Facebook is the first) active user counts and represents most of what modern day ‘social media’ is. At least for now.
As each day passes on, the differentiation between the virtual world and the real world becomes increasingly obscure. Instagram has begun to represent a downward spiral of what we hold dear to our hearts, our time. There are a few key points I want to highlight regarding the philosophy of social media. The thought process behind its inception was to create a platform where individuals would be able to interact with each other, virtually, and minimize the realistic distance by making us virtually closer. You were able to see what your friends in Europe were doing this weekend via their pictures or videos, or how your family members celebrated Christmas and what not. The initial use or purpose of social media started to dwindle and die once the rise of it’s own platform came into few. As a fundamental aspect of instagram; there are followers and then there are the following. In case of virtual natural selection, the proportion between followers to following should as high as possible – symbolizing popularity. The more followers you have vs the people you follow; the more likely you’re to be virtually popular. These numbers are listed on every single instagram account, regardless if you’re private or public. They are listed as you’re virtual value essentially. The equivalent in the real world might be having your salary, net worth, hovering over your head whilst you journey through life meeting people. I’ll let you visualize how that would play out.
The question begs to be asked, what is the purpose of having more followers on this virtual platform? The quick answer to that is an increased audience – increased potential to become an influencer. Understandably, not every account on instagram seeks to become an influencer; however, majority of accounts would not be opposed to be one of those with tends of thousands of followers. The fundamental difference between someone who is an ‘influencer’ vs a normal user is the aspect that influencers often have sponsored deals with major companies. These major companies in different aspects of goods and services reach out to users in order to promote their products. These products can be make-up gear, computer parts, fitness clothes etc etc. The notion of getting things sent to you for free (whereas you would have normally bought them) in order to publicly show to your friends and family (which you probably already do), seems like a, “too-good-to-be-true,” occasion. Currently, there is not an estimated number of how many influencers there are in all the different product services or categories – but many of us follow them on our social media accounts. We are keen to know the latest and greatest our favorite blogger holds dear to their hearts, until they recommend a new product weeks later. We rush to amazon or our local mall to pick these suggested products as soon as they appear in their videos or posts – or maybe we don’t. The fundamental problem with this is that ‘influencers’ are mainly just human advertisements. If we were to watch a youtube video with the same advertisement of the same product, seen earlier on instagram, we would be aggressively clicking that skip ad button. If we were reading through magazines and the same product appears, we would most likely glance over it and flip to the next page. Let that thought sink in.