“More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent, and all will be lost.” — Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator
Growing up in cricket-crazy Calcutta in the 1980s—yes, back when we called the city by that name—we discussed Ravi Shastri and Kapil Dev more than we did the math syllabus. An annual trip to Eden Gardens for a match (the sport didn’t have a round-the-year calendar then) was more eagerly anticipated than the four days of Durga Puja. While we had our idols in the Indian team, my brother supported Pakistan and idolised Imran Khan. When he had chanted the then Pakistan captain’s name during an India-Pakistan test match at the Edens in 1987, he had raised a few eyebrows. In fact, he had even burst crackers on the road when Imran Khan lifted the World Cup in 1992. While he had surprised the neighbours, he wasn’t arrested on charges of terrorism. Looking back, was it his Hindu name that saved him? Or was our collective threshold for allowing personal freedom much higher? Back then, our lives were not entirely defined by religious binaries.
The internet was expected to remove these man-made barriers as technology was supposed to build an egalitarian world order. It would be interesting to find out whether our collective threshold for liberty was indeed higher in a pre-digital era or if technology has only widened the divide that already existed in our society.
The last three decades have seen a whirlwind of tech-led social changes in which the smartphone in our hands has only propelled us towards the depths of voyeurism and heights of consumerism. Social connections gave way to social media which has now become the latest theatre of cultural and ideological wars. In these battlefields, there are warriors and influencers. There are charges of ‘toxic positivity’, elitism and naked consumerism but that doesn’t diminish the way influencers are redefining how we consume content. At least, technology has been egalitarian in not keeping Bharat out of the new language that it has created. Vlogs, reels and stories have become part of our regional lexicon as well.
As influencers harness the power of social media, they have become custodians of knowledge and brands are flocking to them. The reason is very simple: our need for a good story. Undoubtedly, the pandemic has accentuated this need and the sway these content creators have over our lives has increased manifold. But, the question that we are asking is: How much sway do they have on brands and on followers? To that end, we have, for the first time in India, released a ranking of social media influencers. Starting November 2021, Outlook Business will bring to you this ranking twice a year. We are deeply in debt to our partner Grapes Digital in this endeavour.
As people next door become influencers on the power of their stories and brands bank on their relatability to influence our consumption behaviour, will this influence ‘heal the world and make it a better place’?