STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

Tech & Opportunity: Who wants to be Instafamous?

Of all the portmanteaus to emerge from our Internet age, "Instafamous" is probably the easiest to parse.

Photo-sharing service "Instagram" plus "famous" would be the branded definition. But instafamous also conveniently translates to "instantly famous."

Sylvain Labs, a branding consultancy based in New York, and Greencard Pictures followed teen Shawn Megira and his meteoric rise to instafame in the video below.

It's difficult to tell how many followers Shawn has because of the proliferation of Instagram accounts using his name or in tribute to him. Let's go with 52,000 and counting. Whatever the case, it's a lot of attention for doing nothing. Instant Internet fame begs questions of talent, labor, and what it means to be active both on and offline. 

The discussion in the film with Shawn and his friends is, in terms of knee-jerk reactions, merely a display in narcissism. Yet, that assessment is an easy way of dismissing what kids are experiencing on social media.

Professor Niobe Way in the Applied Psychology department at New York University shared some reassuring insights. She does a lot of research on urban girls and boys. In her most recent book, "Deep Secrets: Boys' Friendships and the Crisis of Connection," she argues that rather than believing there is a "boy crisis," we should reframe and consider boys and the "crisis of connection" they experience as they approach adolescence and manhood.

As it relates to social media and instafame, Way explains in the short film that teens who are grounded in their intimate relationships with family and (real-life) friends have a better chance of realistically dealing with the superficialities online fame can bring. 

Also important to consider is the difference between being famous and being infamous. What makes social media and Internet-based services so scary is the anonymity and lasting nature of photos and posts. One indiscretion and a young person can go from famous to infamous with one click. 

In addition to Professor Way's insights about the importance of connection as a way to ground children despite pop culture and social media influences, it's also helpful to remember that there have always been ideas about shortcuts to fame and fortune. Remember Hoop Dreams' stars and their basketball ambitions?

Technology and the opportunities it affords can be a mixed bag, but the social context in which we all use it (or whether we use it) remains within our control. 

Related Content