📱REAL LIFE | "Influencer Creep"
Real Life has become one of my favorite sites to read thoughtful pieces about how technologies affect us. In a recently published article, Sophie Bishop writes about how the norms and expectations that started with “influencers” have expanded to include all manner of work and labor.
In a recent piece for Salon, Brooke Erin Duffy detailed how influencer culture has become part of many careers, including journalism, academia, medicine and finance, even as influencers are still often singled out for their social media “hustling.” The expectation that one be “eminently visible,” as Duffy puts it, regardless of profession, is particularly salient against a backdrop of labor precarity, the gig-ification of sectors like journalism and higher education, and an always-on work-from-home culture. Remote workers may perform competence by organizing their work from home spaces into stylish, color-coordinated and highly “professional” Zoom backgrounds. Yoga instructors must take images of daring poses amid dramatic backdrops to build and maintain their following hoping that this online will translate to yoga-class attendance, which has slowed as people continue to work from home. House painters, carpenters, and vacuum-repair people can use their social media to demonstrate their skillfulness and trustworthiness to risk-adverse potential clients, who are nervously shopping around as we teeter on the edge of a recession.
Although the metrics being chased may look slightly different, what was once a matter of professionalization specifically for influencers is now becoming a part of professionalization in general. If the phrase “mission creep” describes how a campaign’s objectives gradually expand until they entail unanticipated and boundless commitment, we might likewise call the expansion of micro-celebrity practice “influencer creep,” both for how influencing creeps into more forms of work and for how it creeps further into the lives of workers. The mark of influencer creep is the on-edge feeling that you have not done enough for social media platforms: that you can be more on trend, more authentic, more responsive — always more. It lodges in the back of your mind: film more, post more, respond more, share more. And as with mission creep, there is no apparent way out.
I’ve felt this nagging feeling in lots of different ways over the past few years. Concern that I’m not posting enough. Not keeping pace. Choosing the wrong platforms.1
At the heart of it, for me at least, is this concern that our cultural attention is so short and our conversation so rapid that we lack object permanence. If your identity is affirmed by your performance of it for the public, a lot of things become reductive in short order:
If you’re not constantly publishing, do you exist to the public?
What happens when you stop publishing so frequently?
Do you make less money? (Almost certainly, unless you are an established Star™)
Do you lose future opportunities? (Probably. Because someone else stepped into your niche.)
What happens when your identity expands beyond your niche—especially if that niche provides for your livelihood?
It’s perilous and precarious, and it is precarious precisely because other forms of social supports and safety nets have been cut. So while the reward can be high, it is uncertain, and is not readily attainable or guaranteed.
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As the article states, it’s all become expected as table stakes. But should it? Newness is a poor judge, and the lifespan of art and literature and other cultural artifacts is far longer and far more unpredictable than what does numbers on the day it’s released.
How have you experienced this in your own work or life? Are there ways to resist it? Let me know in the comments.
In retrospect, spending to much time on Twitter and not Instagram or TikTok was probably the wrong call.