The Internet is expanding. It is increasing its influence not just in the different services it offers and the category of reels it has on it. It is influencing the places we visit, the courses we enrol in, the food we consume, the jobs we take and the stories we believe.
With its expanding reach, it’s important to understand how the flow of power works in this new dynamic. Why power? Because that’s a primal instinct that attracts people to do what they do today. Positions of power, be it within a government or a private organisation, are the most coveted places to be. So in this essay, I will try to list my observations on how the power dynamic of the world has (not so slowly) shifted online and how it’s not merely a way to reach more people, it is now the way to conjure and collect power.
Before we begin to understand the new playbook for influence, we first need to know how power originates and where it lies.
The most powerful and influential companies in the last 200 years have been traditional media companies. These are the places where narratives are born and spread. They make or break political candidates (Trump, Biden, Modi), run up or down financial markets (Zee Business, CNBC awaz), spread nationalist euphoria and generate fear. Why were these companies powerful? Because of their reach. Distribution is king. It was tough to get into people’s houses and create a narrative that went against the friends of these cos. We had cable TV, and that was the source of truth. Now that has changed. The distribution has been disrupted. TV has become obsolete, and contrarian views have a chance to come up in front of people.
The bottomline being:
Narrative = Influence = Power
The higher the narrative amplification, the more it influences a broad audience and the more power it assumes.
The people who can control narratives are the people who become the most powerful. A very simplistic, reductionist view. The power of narrative is so strong that the present narrators often control what is good and evil, control what goes into the history books and thus control the past, which in turn modifies the way we think of the future. It, therefore, becomes imperative for us as a group to not accept the history being written by this narrator, who is powerful today. Our role is to offer alternate histories by building our own audience.
The Internet has massively disrupted the control over traditional media and distribution networks that some of these companies held. Creating an audience is much easier now as if you are good you get the eyeballs of people first thing in the morning on Insta, Fb, TikTok or via a Push Notification. Thus creating an audience that listens to you is the biggest investment with the highest ROI that can be made today.
Big Audience = Bigger Influence = Bigger Power
The shortfall of the big tech social media companies is that because of the algos behind the screen, they are slowly turning into traditional media cos. Profiling users and creating echo chambers for them is leading to a divided, non-tolerant society, but there is still hope. Changing algo is still much more manageable than changing the CEO of Aaj Tak. The internet town squares of the world need to recognise why they became popular in the first place and allow all voices an equal stage rather than curbing them. They risk audience migration, which doesn’t take time, and Facebook is an excellent example.
Where does meme come in all of this? Lets understand what are memes and what is meme behaviour.
Relevant Memes = Radicalising Audience = Rallying towards a purpose
For me, memes are culturally relevant pieces of information that can be used to convey more ideas than one. Meme behaviour is the tendency of humans to get influenced by trends and do what is immediately culturally relevant. Let us go one level deeper and understand this more.
Memes are the new loudspeakers and the new culture setters. They don’t need to be a scene from a movie, an event, or a cartoon. Memes can be anything. A part of a song. A place to eat. A dance step. Anything that can be copied is a meme. And once your audience starts copying, it becomes meme behaviour. One would believe that with the advent of so many channels to consume information, our world would become more diverse. However, we are becoming more homogenous than ever because we tend to adopt meme behaviours.
Your best friend can post a video of a cool way to eat dessert in a new restaurant, a new beach they just discovered or a new song they found. An influencer like Federer can do something with a racquet and a ball and ask every fan to do the same. Anything and everything can trigger a meme behaviour. Suddenly everyone is eating the same desert, going to the same beach, listening to the same music and doing the challenge that Federer just did.
If you have an audience and a catchy idea, you can quickly rally people to adopt an action on a large scale, which can have many second and third-order effects. That is POWER
In this new age, and especially 5 years into the future: To become powerful, you will need to have an audience. Spread a meme behaviour to this audience and you can make people do anything you want.
A graduate from BITS Pilani, class of 2019, I am currently working as a Product Manager at Flipkart. I like to write about things that get stuck in my head. By writing I make sure everyone knows what absurd thoughts I have :P Thanks for visiting.