The Mirage of Social Media Stardom

This post was originally published on Medium on October 7, 2016

As I stood in the middle of the Anaheim Convention Center at the 2016 VidCon, surrounded by YouTube Stars and Vine Celebrities, I was enchanted by the evolution of this new world that I have seen explode over the last 10 years. Hundreds if not thousands of people live their lives and earn their livings on social media now. But, what stopped me in my tracks that day, more than anything else, were the overwhelming number of kids and parents desperately trying to get the attention of these stars in the hope that they too might enter this elite world of social media stardom. In 2012, The Huffington Post wrote an article stating that “kids want fame more than anything.” I saw that up close and personal at VidCon, and I just do not think this is sustainable.

Obviously, social media has created a new type of celebrity unlike any that has existed before. Today, anyone can flip on their iPhone, record themselves, and be an overnight star. See Chewbacca mom. This is not how things worked in the past. Then, becoming famous generally meant moving to Hollywood, being a professional athlete, or running the gauntlet of judgement in some other performance based profession. Essentially, each of these paths required significant training and sacrifice, along with moments where one’s skill would be tested by some outside entity. If found wanting, an individual would have to change their pursuit. I call these “checkpoints” and they have existed for almost every profession. If a person wants to be a doctor they must get into med school; if a person wants to be a professional football player they must play for a college team. While these examples are not totally inclusive and there are exceptions, most paths in life have relatively clear checkpoints where a person must reflect on their path and choose to keep going, or to change their focus to something better suited for their talents. Using football as an example, a player generally must go through four major checkpoints in their career.

In other words, only the best athletes make it through this winnowing. Singers, similarly must be able to sing, actors must be able to act, and dancers must be able to dance, and at increasingly higher levels to get to professional ranks. Furthermore, in each of these situations there are outside bodies and groups that act as checkpoints. While perhaps harsh, or even arbitrary, these checkpoints help people to focus their time and energy in places and on subjects where they can excel and find fulfillment.

Social media stardom has turned this talent curation process on its ear.

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