Sunday, September 28, 2014

Undue Influence

One of the hot concepts currently in the online world is the “Influencer.”

It's a formal title now, but the criteria for awarding it aren't clear. Arianna Huffington, for example, is an Influencer. Look it up on LinkedIn and you get 83,294 results (as of 09-28-14).

It’s the sort of thing I had come to expect on LinkedIn, but the virus is spreading. An outfit called Sirius Decisions recently presented awards at an “Influencer Program of the Year” gala. 

I’m not sure if “Thought Leaders” are complementary to, or in competition with (or the same as?) Influencers, but we have them working for us as well (121,239 returns for “Thought Leader”).

It’s a clever ploy. In an earlier time, to qualify to influence everyone or lead the world’s thinking you would have been expected to be an “expert.” That’s more than semantic nitpicking; an expert has to be an expert in some field of expertise. There ain’t no such animal as a generic expert, with no particular field (or no credible ones, anyway). But this apparently isn't a problem any more.  In an age when celebrities are celebrated for being famous and famous people are famous for being celebrities -- why not “thought leaders” and “influencers”? people who've been anointed by LinkedIn because they’re believed to be influential or who are believed to be influential because LinkedIn says they are.

And influence cuts both ways, doesn’t it? good and bad? Can we be sure everyone we might meet in those 83,000-plus instances is a good influence? And thought leading doesn’t have all that wonderful a past, either; one of the most successful thought leaders in history led a whole country to depravity and eventual destruction 70 years ago. 

Yeah, that’s kinda heavy, maybe more than we need to worry about here. Just a reminder: “Watch out for the people who tell you what to think.” We don’t want to lose the habit of thinking for ourselves.