I vividly remember the first time I crossed paths with a social media celebrity. I didn’t know it at the time, and neither did she (I think). It was over ten years ago. The newsfeed was yet to be realised and a particularly groundbreaking social media platform was still in its infancy.
“Have I added you yet?” she’d asked.
“Um, I’m not sure,” I’d responded, “have you?”
“I wouldn’t have a clue. I’ve got like four hundred friends. I can’t keep track of them.”
Four hundred? I was barely scratching thirty.
I wonder what her friend count is at today, now that we talk about followers in the millions.
I now realise they weren’t friends as much as they were followers. (We just weren’t calling them that at the time.) It now seems obvious. If you’ve got more people friending you than you them, then it’s a one way street. It’s more like fame than it is friendship.
“In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes.”
Andy Warhol was right. The future is now and everyone is #famous. And I worry, because fame, for its own sake, is not a pathway to happiness. Studies have shown that it’s authentic human connection and meaningful work that are important when it comes to leading a happy life.
We know this. We’ve been telling ourselves these stories forever. We’ve been telling them to our kids and we still are. Consider any movie produced by Pixar and you’ll find friendship and following-your-dreams at the heart of it.
As a teacher I’ve walked through playgrounds and school yards full of twelve and thirteen year olds with heads buried in their phones. I’ve heard them bragging about followers and competing for likes and duck facing like their lives depend on it.
I think social media blurs the lines between friendship and fame. Friendship is about quality, not quantity, and social media asks us to put a number on it. Social media makes a mockery of us all as well-intentioned adults. The problem is, for kids today, social media has become a fact of life (if not life itself).
So I’ve written a book. A picture book, because I know how powerful they can be in educating children. It seemed the best way of contributing to some kind of solution.
Hashtag Harry is the story of a sausage dog that becomes an overnight, social media sensation.* As Harry transitions from cute family pet to full-on celebrity influencer the reader is along for the ride… for the happy highs, and the lonely lows. My hope is that Hashtag Harry will help families and classrooms start discussions about where social media should fit into our society, how social media is sometimes anything but social, and why fame and filters aren’t everything.
The message at the heart of my book is important to me. Human connection, in real life, is what it’s all about. So I’ve decided to self-publish and that’s not an easy feat. To raise funding and capital I’ve become more reliant on social media, online connections and digital platforms. (Don’t worry, I’m completely aware of the irony.)
I’m hoping that all my efforts, on and offline, will help me get there. I’m really proud of my book and I know there’s a need for it.
*Of course a quick search reveals actual puppy influencers in the thousands.