Society is structured around rule following and standardization. The upside is that we have optimized ourselves for a specific way of life. A developed world of abundance and easy living. The downside, is that there is a majority of people unable to think for themselves. They await instructions, guidance and a general push in the right direction. We seem to collectively lose the ability to think for ourselves, to rationalize new information and make concrete decisions.
Its not to say we aren’t able to rationalize situational data. On the contrary, we all are able to sense and underlying foreboding that action must be taken. But because we have been raised by a strict rules based society, we look to a decision maker to tell us what to do and how to act. We won’t let instinct take over until it’s too late.
Thats why the influencer has risen to prominence in the digital age. People crave an authority figure telling them what to do. The democratization of access to communications platforms that can reach massive scales of people has allowed individuals to find a voice and use it. Over time, an influencer builds a community around their ideology, establishing trust and reputational currency. They use this currency to influence the decision makers of their followers. It’s created an interesting dynamic between what was and what is.
Let me explain.
You see it with how we assess modern “mainstream” media organizations. Traditionally, we took their word as gospel. What was said on the news was viewed as true. Today, you have many different variations of news and it’s easy to assess an underlying political agenda. There are also many other voices providing on the ground perspectives of events and features traditionally covered by the mainstream media. As a result, the general populace has been split along political factions and lines of personal preference . We have mixed signals indicating what we should do and how we should react under a given situation.
This phenomenon has been visible throughout the Covid-19 outbreak. At first the outbreak ravaged China, and the influencers of the west overwhelmingly deemed it inconsequential. Then the virus infected Italy and Korea. At some point along the way, more factions of influencers began to sound the alarm. It began to draw a line in the sand of developed society in the west, those that had fear and were preparing based on their respective influencers and those that did nothing based on the nonchalance of their influencers. The non action camp could be split into those doing nothing based on no instructions and those actively downplaying the pandemic based on a mirroring behavior of their respective influencer.
It is clear, that a mob mentality now rules the digital age. As evidence of impending outbreak landed closer to home, more influencers began to sound the alarm. Including traditional media outlets. These outlets still have massive reach and therefore moved mass opinion in the west towards acceptance and preparedness of an outbreak. This did not convince everyone however. There are still factions of non-believers. Factions of influencers that don’t buy into the evidence of an impending virus. One of those influencers happens to be the President.
Setting aside the harsh consequences of the President’s data gathering and decision making, it’s a fascinating phenomenon of the digital age. I don’t expect this to change. In fact, I expect that as our lives become more digital and as we get better about selecting our influencers we will see a further fragmentation of society. A fragmentation along ideological lines with loyalties to key influencers that act as proxies for decision making.
Decisions of the digital age may well shift to a parliamentary style system requiring coalition building to simply sell decision making processes to the masses. Success in the digital age will require a person to have an assortment of influencers they follow and an ability to make sense of the assorted signaling they receive. Ultimately, making sense of these conflicting signals and making successful decisions will dictate who is independently successful and for a lack of a better way of putting it… who is a sheep. This transition within the digital age will formally give rise to the Global Digital Citizen. Influencers will jockey to cultivate authority over these individuals who increasingly add more of their time and value to digital communities.