What is an “influencer?”
According to Merriam-Webster it’s “a person who is able to generate interest in something (such as a consumer product) by posting about it on social media.”
To me, that means making a living from yelling, “Look at me!” They are famous for being famous. They then monetize that manufactured fame.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Influencers can be entertaining and share useful information. The problem becomes when so many young people think “influencer” is a viable career path. According to a survey conducted by IZEA Worldwide, 67 percent of social media consumers said they’d like to be a paid social media influencer, but 30 percent said they already considered themselves to be an influencer.
To be an influencer means constantly seeking content, and constantly checking for hits, likes, and retweets. They are emblematic of the behaviors at the root of the increase in serious mental health issues born of social media overuse.
Imagine peering at yourself in a mirror countless times a day. You’d become fixated on every little imperfection and absorbed with what you’d think of as your attractive features. And when you’re not looking in the mirror you’re looking to see if others are looking at you and comparing yourself to them.
Social media is a mirror with a scoreboard.
There’s a term for this: narcissism. And it isn’t healthy.
According to Dr. Louis Tay at Purdue University a study of about 1,700 U.S. young adults found that the amount of time and frequency of social media use both related to greater levels of depression. On the other hand restricting the amount of time spent on social media improved happiness.
Cognitively, there isn’t a difference between dwelling on yourself on social media and unhappiness.
I don’t think we should be surprised that the increasing mental health issues young people struggle with correlate to the increasing popularity of social media. Let’s remember, Facebook was founded in 2004, Twitter in 2006 and Tik Tok just six years ago, in 2017. They became embedded in popular culture as Gen Z (born after 1995) were growing up. And that’s why it’s hard for previous generations to understand the gravity of the matter.
Am I a caveman? Absolutely. I still marvel that I can make a call without finding a payphone and having 10 cents in my pocket. For me the generational divide is knowing what “calling collect” means.
It’s hard for me to appreciate the immense pressures that young people feel to keep up with the unrealistic ideals presented as the norm on social media. But the pressures are very real and I believe they are a leading cause of the mental health issues that students at our campuses wrestle with every time they look at their cell phones.
What’s the remedy? Prescribing “don’t look at your phone so much” is easy to say but hard to do without appearing to wear a bear skin and drag a club.
Spending time not thinking about oneself is the key. It’s no accident that those who are charitable – thinking about the well-being of others – are happier. Studies have found that people who give money to charity tend to be happier. While it may seem contradictory, the more we think about others, the happier we are. Mohandas Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. faced great struggles but strike me as having been happy and at peace with themselves.
Students at SCICU member institutions have a leg up on happiness in that they have the opportunity to learn the ideas and values that inspired these great people, and others like them.
They are the most important influencers of all.