Circle of Influence

Yes, that’s a picture of my refrigerator in its freshly cleaned and organized glory. There are no ‘before’ shots, thank God.

The current state of my refrigerator is a result of me conceding I’m not as great as I had hoped. I’ve always imagined myself to be a free thinker impervious to the influences — good or bad — of others. Nope. I’m not. Turns out I’m decidedly human when it comes to crowd participation in thoughts and actions. Odds are good the rest of you are, too. That makes the crowds we surround ourselves with — our circle of influence — vitally important.

My new found self-awareness is credited to TikTok. I began my relationship with TikTok about a month ago when my child accidentally sent me a link to their profile. Whoops. Knowing my own kids were experimenting with the app, it seemed important for me to understand a platform that is powerful enough to disrupt presidential campaign events and inspire normally law-abiding and safety-conscious kids to participate in challenges that risk injury and imprisonment. I doubt my kids’ schools were the only ones to go through impromptu bathroom renovations last fall.

Back to the point. So I’m on TikTok now and trying to figure out how it works. When you create a profile, your feed is immediately populated with a never ending stream of content that TikTok thinks you’ll like based on questions you answer and content you end up spending the most time consuming. At first, my feed was full of people doing really dumb things for attention. That’s probably the most popular content and where TikTok starts with newbies.

Within weeks my views, hearts, favorites and follows resulted in a consistent drumbeat of content related to cats, crockpot recipes, household cleaning ideas and Boomers dancing to Rod Stewart songs. In the past week I made two of the crockpot recipes (both involving cream cheese and ranch seasoning packets — what am I doing?) and brought my refrigerator up to health department standards after watching endless video content reinforcing the ideas. My kids’ bedrooms remain below health department standards, so I’m pretty sure we aren’t consuming the same content. I wonder if they are spending time in the ‘normalize messy houses’ corners of TikTok. That’s a real thing, by the way.

Guys, if TikTok can inspire me to willingly devote four hours of my Saturday afternoon to a thorough cleaning of my refrigerator, it’s powerful. Other social media platforms have the same ability to influence us. I think a big component in the success these platforms have is the signals we provide regarding our preferences. We can swim in an endless pool of content that reinforces our beliefs, speaks to our desires and encourages us to take action in spaces we’ve volunteered to be influenced about.

Social media gets a lot of criticism. It should. In many ways it’s a shit show and the creators behind the platforms have put more time into figuring out how to manipulate users for profit than how to protect users from exploitation, harm or misinformation. It’s here to stay, however, and it seems wise to look for ways to use it to our benefit by thoughtfully constructing our influencers and shielding ourselves from content that inspires bad choices or actions incompatible with healthy lives and communities. If we don’t, we may be just as vulnerable to thinking we’re exercising free thought with what we do as the kids ripping bathroom sinks off of walls in schools and the adults consuming their own urine to cure a devastating disease.

Today I have a clean refrigerator. Win! This week I’m easing into ‘salad’ TikTok as a means to pivot from crockpot cholesterol. I’m going to use what I now know about myself to my advantage. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for my content feed to adjust to healthier options. It will change, eventually.

I wish you all clean refrigerators and a healthy 2022.

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Former headhunter turned alumni relations pro who values great questions, meaningful connections and finding the best in others.

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Lisa Parker

Lisa Parker

Former headhunter turned alumni relations pro who values great questions, meaningful connections and finding the best in others.

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