People these days are widely influenced by other people whom we sometimes think we actually know, , but don't. We turn to social media to inform ourselves about what other people think, or know about the latest and greatest. The sparkly internet goldmine is chock full of info on a wide spectrum of topics; technology, gadgets, gaming, entertainment, politics, activism, medical research, fashion, religion, health, social studies, the weather, and so on. There are as many published opinions out there as there are people. And while I'm a huge fan of the technology that allows me to feed my mind with a few simple keystrokes, I'm skeptical about what I find out there.
A Little History Lesson for Younger Readers
In the olden days, we didn't have computers, tablets, smart phones, smart t.v.s, for entertainment. We had television. We LOVED television as much as you LOVE your modern entertainment technology.
"What was television like, you ask? “
Well, the “signal” came in through the airwaves to a big antenna mounted to the side of the house, coupled with “rabbit ears” that sat on top of television. In order to get a good picture on the screen, one person would adjust the ears this way or that, while the other person would provide commentary about the quality of the picture. Sort of like the “can you hear me now” of today.
Influence in the Television Era
My older readers will remember Nielsen ratings. (Arthur C. Nielsen Sr., was an electrical engineer and the founder of the market research company -ACNielsen, known widely in mainstream America as simply ,“Nielson.”) Nielsen ratings were a measurement of who was watching what on television in order to boost brand presence for specific demographics through advertising - or what we knew as a most annoying part of watching t.v. - the commercials. In the earliest days, the measurement data were collected via watchers' diaries. Viewers recorded and provided their demographic data to Nielsen; size of household, ages, location, brands of products used in the household, etc. And their television watching habits; watching times, programs watched (shows, sports, movies), number of hours and reactions to various commercials. Neilsen, being the technology pioneer that he was, came out with a “set meter”. It was a small device connected to the television, paired with a “home unit” connected to the telephone line, a.k.a these days as a “land line”. Once enough data was collected, companies would buy air time in order to air commercials that would appeal to the demographic of the viewers.
Influence in the Internet Era
From the time he was old enough to speak, my thirteen year old grandson has entertained himself, educated himself, solved problems by himself by “searching it up”(his words) on YouTube. He will watch video productions made by other people, many his own age, who he believes have mastered the subject. Many of these people are known as influencers. By the power of artificial intelligence (like IBM's supercomputerWatson) the Nielsen type data of the television era is collected at the speed of light from all the social media outlets, fed to big brands and matched up with folks with gigantic numbers of followers. The products that appeal to a thirteen year old gamer are attached to the rising star of the social media influncer who produces YouTube videos in the comfort of their own bedroom and who is compensated handsomely for their time and effort with every click on their video production, every new follower, every spike in number of watchers.
Everybody gets rich. Everybody except the person who is being influenced to spend their hard earned allowance on junk they don't need.
What's Real? What's Not?
Don't get me wrong, I don't think all social media is junk. Some of the social media influencers are the real deal who have earned their street cred through education, vetted personal success or proven good deeds. But some of them are snake oil salesman – hawking their knowledge as if it were fact to the masses thirsty for information. These influencers are well known by their social media personas, by their presence on the internet. But not necessarily by their real character. I feel like we need to protect our vulnerable people from the bad characters. We need to look out for and help educate them. They need to know how to use discernment, discrimination and thoughtful evaluation before deciding to blindly follow another person into what could be a dark abyss of misinformation.
Who, What, When, Where, Why and HOW?
How? How do we grab their attention away from the glitz and glamour of what has become the new television of our times? I have theories, ideas, suggestions. Too many and too much for this blog post; a complete overhaul of the American educational system, compensate our teachers with the same value as we put on social media influencers, break down class systems and borders, revamp the systems that help govern the behaviors of civilized social structures, etc., etc., etc.
“Tune in tomorrow. Same bat-time. Same bat-channel!”