Humans seem to be evolutionarily predisposed towards interest in what other people are doing, since this has allowed for the social cohesion that’s been instrumental to our survival. There is also an element that, the more other people there are who care what a particular person says and does, the more people will care what that particular person says and does, creating a positive feedback loop. Social status in the form of notability must have developed as a way of attaining reproductive access.
Via constant, nonstop access to so much ‘content’ in the form of online personalities (or lack thereof), the internet has usurped social interaction as it was once understood (and the forms thereof in which our ancestors evolved), with parasocial relationships becoming surrogates for friendships. These surrogates are a poor simulacrum of true friendships, leading to loneliness, depression, and anxiety at unprecedented levels: indeed, any commenters claiming not to want some level of notability or that they are immune to influence contradict themselves, since by posting a comment they are hoping that other people read what they have expressed.
People seem to respond to the world we humans have created for ourselves in one of three ways: social isolation; desperate attempts to achieve fame, even if it means having to jettison any principles that could actualize them, in their fevered quest for views/clicks/likes; or fanatical adherence to (often radical) political ideologies or barking mad conspiracy theories (e.g. flat earthers) that give them a sense of belonging (and may allow them to achieve the sort of fame sought by those in the second group – indeed, some of those who appear in this third group may just be cynical opportunists from the second group who don’t actually buy into the ideology but see it as a way of chasing the siren song of fame at the cost of dashing their principles against the rocks).
Influencer is an interesting term for these parasocial relationships. The acolytes of these personalities trust them more than the institutions erected to harbor and dispense information, like universities and journalists. Much of the blame can be laid at the feet of these institutions, who squandered their good will by adopting activism as their driving impetus. However, this seems to be a consequence of the democratization of information: one can always find some other source that will tell them what they want to hear, rather than what they ought to hear. And so, the institutions had to pick a side in order to cater to this new paradigm of satisfy-your-narrative content consumption.
In our late-capitalist society, the highest ideal is happiness. We expect to be happy at all times: just look at how people are unable to put the health of the nation during COVID above their own immediate gratification (e.g. the influencers who continue to party). One symptom of this is the sentiment people hold about not having to be exposed to information that makes them uncomfortable: we can choose what content we consume, and with happiness as the highest ideal, we choose comforting narratives over truth. This is self-perpetuating and I don’t see that we’ll get out of it without something extremely disruptive to our current trajectory.
This post is adapted from a comment I left on the following video: