The Case for the Organic “Influencer”

بِسْمِ ٱللّٰهِ ٱلرَّحْمَٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيم

It amazes me nowadays just how great a change in global ethos and cultures the past decade or so has brought about. Those who live in their own little bubbles, however, might not have much of a clue of what I am talking about. It is possible that all such people were born before 1990, i.e. those generations that spent a greater part of their (younger) lives without the Internet, and hence, they are still unaware of just how exponentially great an impact it is having on everyone’s lives.

These people haven’t yet been able to let the Internet permeate all aspects of their existence (which is not such a bad thing, in my opinion), perhaps because they are more set in their ways due to their older age and dated lifestyle habits; hence, the resistance to change (or just plain denial).

But the fact remains, that many people are still not aware of just how great the changes are, which are about to happen in the coming decades.

The digital revolution has officially changed the way we live, work, socialize, conduct business, share news, spend money, and even travel. And the change is still underway, in a big way. I think the greatest impact of the digital revolution has been upon the younger generations i.e. those born after 1990, like I said above (by the way, the oldest ones among this group are about to hit age thirty).

Anyhow, it so happens that I recently came upon an article that really shook me. It described how, there is currently a generation of people on earth who were born in a certain range of time (late 1970’s, to be exact), who are going to be, after a few decades, when they are older, officially the last people left on earth who actually knew what it was like to have lived during their youth i.e. grown up, without the Internet.

I happen to be part of that generation. You see, I experienced the Internet for the first time when I was 18-19 years old, at university (the year was 1997). I can still remember the notice on the college noticeboard announcing the arrival of “email” facility for students on campus. They had somehow introduced it on the DOS operating system (Windows was still a luxury).

Eventually, in the years to follow, I saw YouTube and Google come into existence. And grow to magnanimous portions. Facebook and what is now known as “social media” came into existence after I became a mother.

Anyhow, time will continue to pass, and with it, so shall we. As my hair turns gray and I hear the creaking in my knees loud and clear (a sound that seems to have come out of nowhere), I realize that I have little time left to fully make use of my mental and physical faculties, in order to invest as fruitfully as I can in my Akhirah (afterlife).

This means, that I now try to cut out all of those things from my life that classify, in my eyes, as “fluff”: i.e. all those things that perhaps were a part of my life before I turned 40, when I was young and naïve and also rather blissfully ignorant of many things, but which are now, to me, pastimes that merely waste the time that I have left in my life.

So, if you are someone who knew me since my childhood or years of youth, and wonder why I have changed so much, especially the social reclusivness on my part, well, that is part of the reason.

But it is definitely not the only reason.

You see, as the world changes rapidly due to digitization, for the first time in perhaps the whole history of mankind, there is this weird thing happening: we are losing out on lifestyles, habits, and intangible blessings that were once readily available. Such as uninterrupted peace of mind, leading a slow-paced life, lack of disturbances during the day, personal privacy, no invasion of space (including mental space), solitude (the real deal, not just the deliberate switching-off from one’s smartphone and apps for a week!), and ……. real, credible, authentic human relationships.

The REAL human relationships.

This last part, human relationships that were genuine, authentic, and absolutely untouched and unaffected by the effects of technology, are becoming more and more scarce, as the years go by. This phenomenon sometimes triggers, for me, some unlikely childhood memories.

“The Matrix”

I am sorry to give this reference, especially to those readers who will gasp at the mention of a film, but there was this film that came out in 1999 titled “The Matrix“. It became a big hit and I remember not understanding it much when I first watched it. But now, as I look back, it seems to eerily make some sense.

And you know what is uncanny? How it seems to be now coming true (at least, in some indirect aspects).

You see, the film fictionally predicted that one day mankind would be living in a virtual, artificially intelligent, unreal world known as the Matrix, which would have everyone’s mind consciously alive inside it via their virtual personas, and this virtual world would seem very real, but would not actually be so.

Every human being would be connected to the Matrix through a cable, and the real, actual world, which was actually a very dark and desolate, dilapidated place, was ruled by artificially intelligent machines who had gone out of the humans’ control, with only a few “unconnected” human beings left alive in it. These people would be living in hiding; inside sealed-off basements unknown to the machines rampaging above, on the surface of earth; who made repeated attempts to infiltrate The Matrix with the help of a disabled hacker who knew how to hack through it. The real world, as well as the Matrix, were controlled in totality by the machines, which would kill any human beings that refused to connect to it.

Maybe I remember it wrong, but since it was just a film, please don’t bother correcting me. 🙂 However, since it became a mega-hit, everyone at my university was discussing it, and we treated its basic premise with so much casualness, as if what was shown in the film would never actually come true, even slightly.

You know, for us 18-t-21-year-old college students, just the idea of living life under the heavy influence of artificially intelligent machines, in which reality and virtual reality were so confusingly intermingled, that one’s relationships and persona (identity) got affected by them, was just so unimaginable back then, that it was downright, dismissively, laughably, too unrealistic and far-fetched to even believe for a moment.

I mean, at that time, we humans used and controlled our machines, to make them do work for us. We were in control of them. Machines did not pervade our lives to such an extent that they affected our public persona, sense of identity, opinions about matters, relationships with others, means of earning livelihoods, and even our perception of illusion vs reality.

Films such as the The Matrix and the Back to the Future franchise were just that: far-fetched, imaginary, hypothetical, fantastical fiction, concocted for purposes of pure entertainment.

The reality today

Puns aside, the reality of our lives today is more than just a little disturbingly reminiscent of what I saw in The Matrix. I mean, my heart goes out to the babies being born today, whose parents think it is totally appropriate for them to be propped up on special pillows at the age of 6 months, to clutch and stay glued to what is appearing on the screens of their digital devices.

But I am not going to go into that right now. Like I said, times have changed, but it is the changes that are yet to come in the next decades, which I am more worried about.

Look, readers, during the past 10 to 15 years, I would voice my opinions, apprehensions, and concerns about certain things that were becoming common in society, to people whose opinions and thoughts I held (back then) in very high esteem. Mostly my elders. Most of them would dismiss or laugh off my concerns without a second thought; maybe even go so far as to allude to me being slightly delusional or paranoid.

This dismissive attitude of theirs lasted only until the alternative decisions that I took as a result of those apprehensions of mine, turned out to show positive (even astoundingly so) results. And until they saw and experienced, firsthand, how those concerns that I had had, came undeniably true, before their own eyes.

Today, I no longer run to these (or any other) people to voice my concerns and apprehensions, or my predictions about the future. I am done with the dismissive derision that I have received at the hands of skeptics. I just run to Allah, and seek His help. Because I have realized that most of the world is blind to reality: the reality that is staring them in the face. Even if someone attempts to show them the truth for what it is, they remain defiantly skeptical and dismissive.

So what can be said about their blindness to the reality that is about to come, tomorrow?

As a result of this growing schism between reality and perception, truth and falsehood, authenticity and superficiality, I have now become very picky of whatever I do, say, or engage in.

It is a struggle to remain authentic, true, and credible in a world that is increasingly become more and more “illusory” by the day.

The metamorphosis of some successful “influencers”

You might have come across the content of any modern-day influencer during the past decade or so. Be they a YouTuber, blogger, instagrammer, or entrepreneur, maybe you landed upon their social media account as a result of a Google search, which you did because perhaps you needed a recipe, a hijab tutorial, a baby product, or the review of a book, toy, clothing item, or tech device, before you actually went out and bought it.

You discovered them for the first time, ended up liking their content, so you subscribed to their account/channel/social media updates. And, for a while, you were happy with their content, because you found it engaging and beneficial.

But, over time, you began to notice the slow metamorphosis of this influencer. You saw them take off, by getting more and more followers and subscribers; more comments under their updates; and more likes and shares for each.

For a while, that was fine, because the said influencer continued to produce the same amazing, authentic, and beneficial content.

However, eventually, you began to notice them “change”. You saw how they began to do increasing collaborations and endorsement deals with other influencers or businesses.

You began to see and feel, perhaps very subtly, how their tone, attitude, and appearance began to change as they became more and more famous and successful. You saw, very disappointingly, for the first time, when they became lax in, or outright violated, their own initial, praiseworthy and lofty principles and morals, for the sake of “pleasing” their audience, increasing their business outreach, breaking into a new, “untapped market/genre”, and/or acquiescing to what their followers or subscribers demanded, wanted, or requested from them.

And, eventually, as was my case, you stopped viewing this influencer’s posts, social media updates, or online account altogether, by unsubscribing or unfollowing them. Because they were, simply put, no longer what they used to be; they had become some other, new entity. A people-pleasing entity — someone who was no longer doing what they were good at, in order to produce content that was needed by, or beneficial to, viewers in general (including those who were new or as yet unreached, besides the thousands of their age-old and diehard fans), based on sincerity and wisdom, but rather, they had metamorphosed into someone who was producing content just for the sake of, on the request of, or the pleasure of, their adulatory “fans”.

E.g. they started doing Q&A’s about their personal life and habits, just because their followers demanded it. They started introducing their relatives onscreen (even those who did not want to be shown) because their followers demanded it.

They started talking about and voicing their opinions on topics and issues that were not their forté, just because their followers demanded it.

It all became about, “what the people want from me”, “what my followers want me to do/say“.

Somewhere along the way, the credible, truthful, naīve but authentic, and sincere influencer had been lost; that original, down-to-earth person that you had initially subscribed to, because their content was so good, that you could literally feel the effect of their sincerity whenever it was published. You literally waited and pined for their next update.

But now?

That person was gone.

Instead, a PR-agency-sought, brand-endorsing, globe-trotting, meetup-hosting, fake-smile-toting “social media celebrity” had taken their place.

I won’t be that infleuncer

So, coming to the point. I am sorry, if my own blog readers feel that I have changed a lot. That I don’t blog or write as often as before (especially about my unschooling journey).

But, and this is the bottom-line that I have been coming to, in this post: my current social reclusiveness and transformation as a writer/blogger, is due to reasons that are exactly the opposite of the scenario that I have described above.

I have become more private because, as my own influence over an international audience inevitably grows with time (and it has grown, just not publicly so, because of my active efforts to maintain my privacy/hide my numbers), I want to stringently guard my own sincerity, purity of intentions, family, and all semblance of normalcy in our day-to-day life, against infecting me, too, with what I call “the curse of fame and success”, which could irreversibly and adversely affect my own authenticity as well.

It is okay if you disagree with, or dislike my decision. It is not meant as a judgment of yours, especially if you are one of those social media users or influencers who choose to share their personal life, thoughts, or opinions on camera for the whole world to see.

I respect your opinion and choice.

But the opposite is what works for me, for my faith, for the level of sincerity in my heart, for my relationship with my Creator, and for my family.

And I hope that you will show respect for my choice, too.

Announcement of the year

I would now like to announce my 15th book. I had been working on this project this year (2019).

Actually, it took me a long time to convince myself to actually put the effort into even trying to self-publish this book, simply because of the sheer volume of the content that it had. It was really daunting for me, from the start, to even try to publish it, because it is my thickest book to date (464 pages).

Earlier this year, as I sat looking forlornly at the long, long list of Q&A that I had penned in my journal, unable to muster up the motivation to start working on it, I turned helplessly to Allah for help. I asked Him to give me the inspiration, patience, hope, and resolve, which would make me just start working on this book.

And to keep going at it, until I finished it.

And, by the grace of Allah, today it is done (and I am quite exhausted now). 🙂

This book is a compilation of all the questions that I have answered (which are more than a 110 in number, 120 and counting, to be exact) on the website AboutIslam.net, in the past 7+ years, ever since I started writing for them in 2012.

You can find this book available for purchase on Amazon here (click or tap on this link, or on the cover image above, to visit this paperback book’s Amazon page).

The mountains

I don’t know whether you remember or have heard of the hadith about a time that will come, in which the best of places to live in, for the Muslim who wishes to safeguard their faith and religion, would be high up in the mountains, with their best wealth being animals that they breed and herd.

Well, to tell you the honest truth, this is something I find myself imagining more and more often, of late. Go ahead, you can laugh it off just as you did the other things said by me and other supposedly “psychologically disturbed” religious people.

But it is true: very soon, the secluded pastures of the as-yet-untouched-by-urbanization natural environs of this earth would be the only places left where a Muslim would be able to easily safeguard their faith from getting corrupted by the trials and tribulations of the modern times.

Value truth above all else

There is another hadith as well, which indicates that, towards the end of times, many liars will appear and falsehood will prevail. The truth will appear to be a lie, and vice versa. So I entreat you to learn to value truth, authenticity and credibility above everything else, especially if you are a Muslim who willingly and patiently strives hard to tread the right path that leads to Allah’s pleasure.

If you are active in any field of work related to Islam, try to keep a strict eye upon your intentions whenever you endeavor to promote your brand, your organization, or your business. Don’t blindly follow the advice given by marketing gurus and books when it comes to work that is done as a service of Islam; work that is done for the sake of Allah.

In this line of work, our intentions are what count the most. Keep that in mind whenever you try to sell yourself, your products, your services, or your brand in general, to the public. Don’t focus on the numbers, as much as you do upon the intentions and sincerity behind the effort.

This is perhaps the answer to the question of why I don’t actively promote my own books on social media. Why I don’t actively and enthusiastically “sell myself” online, despite having the writing and oratorical skills to do so.

For one thing, up till now, I have been really preoccupied with just organizing, curating, and compiling the content that I have produced in the last 13 years. Secondly, I don’t particularly want to “sell myself”, myself, right now, 🙂 if you get what I mean. Maybe that might change some day, but now? No.

I honestly believe that a good service/product sells itself, organically, once it reaches a particular tipping point.

I ask Allah to help my work reach that point. Aameen.

I ask Him to let me become the “organic influencer”.

But, until then, I am not in the mood for doing any proactive self-marketing or self-promotion, according to the contemporary, marketing-guru-provided branding gimmicks and all.

May Allah accept the efforts from us all, grant us high ranks, and keep us steadfast upon true faith. Amen.

Conclusion: Technology should be your slave, not the other way round

Now, please, I do not want anyone to walk away after reading this post, thinking, “Modern-day technology is so, so bad! Period”.

It was not my intention to put forth this message.

After all, I used the same technology and tools over the past 10-13 years to become, first, a blogger, then a freelance writer, then a published + self-published author, and now, an entrepreneur.

However, I have very strict personal rules regarding the use of this technology in our home, which are, in the eyes of some, a bit unrealistic; perhaps because they are not strong/principled enough to implement the same rules in their own homes/lives? I have witnessed young mothers allow their toddlers and 5-year-olds to tap and swipe aimlessly on their smartphones, or grab them from their hands at will. Sigh. Pushover much, sister? Please develop some more backbone as the primary parent-in-authority over your underage child!

I deliberated for years before I finally decided to buy my first smartphone. I thought about it a lot, knowing how it could change one’s life. Years later, today, alhamdulillah, I am happy to report that I have not (yet) allowed this smartphone to control or adversely affect the way I (or my children) live viz. our routine, habits, and priorities.

But it really pains me to see how people of all ages, young and old, act like slaves to this device nowadays. Starting from using it as a prestige point (showing off, simply put) to ‘up’ their social image in front of others; to stalking others on various apps at all times of the day (WhatsApp being, I think, the hands-down favorite app for compulsive stalkers); to addictively viewing useless and absolutely nonsensical content online, 24/7.

They do not even see, be they young in age or older, how they are allowing smart devices + 24/7 Internet connectivity to affect their mental health!

If you are obsessed with news about the latest crimes, celebrity happenings, entertainment releases, or political upheavals around the globe, to such an extent that your interpersonal relationships start getting adversely affected because these things are all you end up talking about (when you are not glued to your screen, that is), you have a problem.

If you obsessively keep checking someone else’s WhatsApp profile for their “Last Seen”, Status update, or “Online” status, you have a problem.

If you get mentally affected in a negative way when someone does not respond to your message, or return your call, as quickly as you want them to, simply because they own a smartphone, you have a problem.

If you keep viewing flashy Instagram post after flashy Instagram post, then allow its colorful, filtered, edited, photo-shopped, staged/scripted, glamorous content to affect how you feel about yourself, your life, your family, and Allah’s blessings upon you, then you have a problem.

….a very, very serious problem.

You see, just because you choose to stay glued to, and respond quickly to, the updates on a WhatsApp or Facebook group, Snapchat or Instagram story, or a favorite YouTube channel, does not mean that everyone else in the world, and even the people in your immediate family, use their smartphone the same way.

Maybe they use Skype, Viber, FaceTime, WhatsApp or other apps only for professional purposes! News flash for you: it is true! Many company employees, entrepreneurs, telecommuting freelancers, as well as other professionals, now use WhatsApp and other smart device apps, purely for professional work.

It is possible that your messages or calls interrupt them during their important work, so please try to be mature, and keep an open mind. Do NOT let someone’s apparent “aloofness” on social media and technology, affect your perception about them as a human being.

Reclaim total control over your smart device(s) and Internet usage, and consequently, your mental health.

Do not let it be the other way around.

OK?

 

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