An influencer, for those who don’t know, is a rich and beautiful (usually) young person who posts photos and videos of themselves on social media platforms in various luxurious settings, with nutritious health-drinks and attractive friends doing something a) self-improving such as being at the gym b) serious such as talking about discrimination or c) goofy and carefree such as dancing in the kitchen.
These people are paid to promote brands so you will often see them doing a), b) or c) wearing a hoodie designed by a rapper, for example. Influencers are proliferating and brands worldwide are set to spend $15 billion on influencers by 2022. The latest and strangest development in the influencer market is the emergence of the virtual influencer. The virtual version of the above does all of the same things and has the same purpose but is not a person that actually exists. He or she is computer generated.
Scrolling through the Instagram account of the most famous computer generated influencer makes you feel confused to the point of seasickness.
Dudley Nevill-Spencer, founder of the London virtual influencer agency brazenly called Live & Breathe says; “So they look like a human. They [their personality and looks] are crafted in a way to appeal to a particular kind of audience to deliver a particular kind of message. We want the computer generated image to have a real relationship with real people. It’s a way for brands to control the content and control the conversation, to communicate the message they want by having an emotional relationship with their audience”.
Scrolling through the Instagram account of the most famous computer generated influencer makes you feel confused to the point of seasickness. She’s called Lil Miquela, is very, supremely gorgeous in a robot kind of a way and has 2.8 million people following her account. She’s also the face of a campaign for luxury fashion house Prada. At first, looking at her feed is a boring task; scrolling through picture after picture of a slightly cartoonish-looking girl encouraging purchase of Samsung mobile phones and Dior boots.
There is a picture of Miquela and some computer generated friends wearing face masks, which is good news – wouldn’t want them sharing their computer generated germs with one and other. Then if you scroll for long enough … Miquela starts to reveal her “personality”. She writes blogs encouraging us to vote; expresses her support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement and discusses her robot mental health.
Miquela writes, “I have to go on Instagram because that’s how I put my art and my voice into the world. It’s where I express myself.” Sometimes her computer-feelings get hurt. She writes in another blog: “I have the audacity to be myself online and I get nothing but hate for it. And yeah, I know I wasn’t always super upfront about being a robot. Ever since I told you guys, it’s been nothing but constant questioning and people joking that my cousin’s a toaster. Normally I laugh. But when I’m trying to talk about a woman that inspires me or raise awareness about how marginalised people are treated in this country, I get frustrated.”
Looking through all this carefully curated madness, you might assume that the middle-aged nerd man-boy behind Miquela’s online diary is having a good old laugh at the state of the world, at the cult of influencers. Actually, no. No one is joking.
I have the audacity to be myself online and I get nothing but hate for it. And yeah, I know I wasn’t always super upfront about being a robot. Ever since I told you guys, it’s been nothing but constant questioning and people joking that my cousin’s a toaster. – Virtual influencer Lil Miquela
Quite soon these robots might be as good at inspiring people to buy designer trainers as Beyoncé now is. That is according to tech and marketing magazine The Drum, which has measured virtual influencers’ “engagement rate” and discovered that social media users find virtual influencers three times more engaging than human influencers. In layman’s terms: the counterfeit humans are money-makers and people are fascinated by them.
It is tempting to lay the blame for this new phenomenon at the door of salespeople and the hypnotic, addictive powers of social media. But it is of course a chicken and egg scenario. People don’t log on to social media in order to buy a new car, watch or handbag. They log on to see pictures of Kim Kardashian living her best life. They like the look of her handbag and might subconsciously buy a similar one later. The increasingly common compulsion to stare at pictures of supposedly superior humans has been exploited by salespeople for decades but it was not invented by them.
So few in the developed – and increasingly secular – world believe in an afterlife of any kind, or in anything much larger than their own existence.
So few in the developed – and increasingly secular – world believe in an afterlife of any kind, or in anything much larger than their own existence. Optimising the earthly experience is the only purpose left to much of modern mankind. And that is where the human and humanoid gods come in. They set the example. They make the most of their time on Earth. Or in the words of Miquela: “reality can be magic, so I’m trying to live here as much as I can, you know?” This new escalation in society’s embracing of idolatry is disconcerting. There is such an appetite for these human gods that there aren’t enough of them to go around and nerds have had to start creating new ones! That or the real-life human gods have competed each other out of the market. None of them can be quite flawless or malleable enough for their financiers. Nor can they ever be quite unworldly enough to satisfy their secular followers.
Panda La Terriere is a freelance writer who lives in London.
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