Lying on the couch side by side, my sister and I shoved potato chips into our mouths as we spent our Sunday afternoon watching a marathon of E! True Hollywood Story. During one of the episodes about the artist P!nk, her closest friends shared their memories of P!nk as a teenager and how she was given her iconic name. My sister paused the show and passed me the bag of potato chips, asking, “Who do you think would be interviewed about you in your True Hollywood Story?” Without any hesitation, I begin drafting out loud which family members, friends and teachers would tell stories about me because I had already fantasized about becoming a famous star.
When I was younger, I always thought I would grow up to be famous for some reason. I wasn’t sure exactly for what, but my dream was to be as a famous singer. I thought I would be discovered through all my beautifully awkward solos in choir or by a stranger finding my covers of songs on YouTube, just like Justin Bieber. However, here I am, somewhat grown up and not famous or well known for any of my spectacular talents.
Last week, when I was hanging out with a group of friends, one of them asked all of us what we would want to be famous for. We all had different answers, from visual arts, to music, writing and sports. Yet we still all have this dream to be known for our passions, crafts and skills. This piqued my interest, because how is it that we all established the same mindset that one day we would be famous for our work? Where did we get this idea or is it human nature to want to be well known and have a legacy?
Looking back at the media I consumed as a preteen, many of my favorite shows and movies were about normal kids who become famous for their different talents. For instance, Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers, the Naked Brothers Band and the Cheetah Girls all were about normal teens who also doubled as famous singers and musicians. In “iCarly,” three friends become well known on the internet for their web show. Seeing these storylines repeated over and over again has impacted the way I think about fame today.
Additionally, we grew up and are still living in the era of social media. There are famous people on varying applications such as YouTube, Vine, Instagram and Twitter accounts that people subscribe to and follow for updates. With all of these different platforms, there is this new culture of following, creating and posting content for others to see. But even everyday people are treating their normal accounts as if they maintain great viewership. For example, in the recent film “Eighth Grade,” main character Kayla has a YouTube channel where she has themed videos with advice and talks to the camera like she has a large following. We later find out she only has a small circle of friends.
Our commonly used applications have been updating so there is more audience user communication and interaction. For instance, the new “ask question” sticker available on Instagram stories allows people to ask you questions and you can post the responses or the ability to respond to stories by sliding into the direct message section. Also, normal people are being sponsored by different companies and posting about products for their followers. Accounts by everyday people changed from just for your friends into platforms or “influencer” pages for audiences of strangers or potential bosses to explore.
For most of us, we don’t have a big following and we only have our friends and family members interacting with our content. But we are still treating and preparing our accounts like they are made for a general audience. When I was younger, I was always nervous about posting things to Instagram and would spend large amounts of time going through my pictures to post the best one with the most creatively crafted caption — but in retrospect, there was no reason for me and my friends to spend so much time on one picture that someone is just going to scroll through in a second.
Reflecting on this occurrence, it reminded me of a theory that I learned in my developmental psychology class called “adolescent egocentrism.” During adolescence, teens feel as if they are the center of the world. During this stage, adolescents can experience a feeling of an imaginary audience, where they feel like everyone is paying attention to their appearance, actions and behaviors. Also, they may experience the personal fable, where they think their experience is incredibly unique and no one is having a similar experience.
These theories explain why my friends and I spent so much time and energy thinking about how others would perceive our posts and the content we were posting online. But the truth is that you are probably the only one spending time on your page and others are not even thinking about your content for that long. Our culture right now seems to highlight those with the most likes and views, but not everyone is going to have a large following. So instead of spending time and energy crafting content for others, you might as well post your content for yourself.
As I am writing this column, I have the song “Everybody Wants To Be Famous” by the band Superorganism repeating in my head. It is really catchy and highlights the point that everyone does want to be famous and have their name well-known — but what is the cost? We spend so much time thinking about how to make ourselves well-known and remembered. I find myself dropping my handle (cough cough, @elleswag) and writing my name all over the place when I have the chance. I think this is just the hope that the things we create and impact we make in our field, community and world is recognized and used because then all of our efforts would be worthless.
So, instead of spending our time and energy creating and doing things for others to enjoy and consume, consider thinking about sharing your talents and skills because you love doing them. You may become well-known and famous from this, but it is probably better for your own motivation, well-being and time.
Ellery Rosenzweig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.