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Khalid Al Ameri: Why do Arab kids want to be famous on Instagram?
May 19, 2015
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

One early morning during a youth development workshop I asked a group of fourth graders a question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Please keep in mind that these are fourth graders, you will understand why I emphasise that soon. So I sat there waiting for common responses such as a police officer, doctor, football player, actor, or ballet dancer from a group of youth that is yet to be brainwashed to comprehend things like limits, realities, or impossibilities by the world. However what came next had me lost for words.

A young boy at the back, stretching his hand out with all his effort to be the first to answer the question, caught my attention. “I want to be famous on Instagram!” he stated with all the confidence of someone who already had hundreds of thousands of fans and followers. There wasn’t the slightest tone of doubt in his voice. I was impressed.

Many of his classmates followed with “Me too!!” I honestly didn’t know what to say next. When children have dreams the last thing you want them to do at such a young age is have them doubting themselves. If anything that energy should be nourished. I then said, “That’s awesome, why do you want to be famous on Instagram?”

He looked puzzled for a second, like I was the one out of place for asking that question. “Because I heard my sisters talking about how famous people on Instagram make a lot of money now, so that is how I can make money” with a sort of case closed attitude as he ended his sentence. I couldn’t deny the accuracy of his statement, I’ve heard amounts being thrown around in the tens of thousands of dirhams for social media personalities to endorse a product.

However something hurt in that moment, that his dream of Instagram fame was empty of any personal goals or purpose. All he knew was that social media fame was the key to a successful future, to some degree he was right, at least for the time being. So I advised him to have a goal or a purpose and use tools like Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat to spread his work and goals. Furthermore that the reason he should have a purpose and goal is that if social media disappeared tomorrow he would always have a path to guide him.

I don’t know if he, or the class for that matter, fully grasped the idea of social media as anything other than a tool to becoming famous. The reason that worries me is that we don’t know what extremes young, influential kids will go to gain that fame. Today it is funny videos, cute selfies, or pranks, what will it be tomorrow? How will we as a society push the limits that are being stretched every day with more and more out of this world action being necessary to gain an audience’s attention?

Social media personalities have gained massive followings and fame through their ability to stand out from the crowd. They have used the tools available to create a career to provide for themselves and their families, plus they are doing work they love, if anything it’s inspiring. But our youth don’t see that.

What they see is the end product, the selfie at an event, the short video with a product or company they are endorsing, or a picture of what they are having for breakfast (with thousands of likes I must add). They haven’t seen the work and effort that has been put into creating and sustaining a personal brand, they think taking selfies, pictures, and attending events is all they do, which for many is far from the truth.

I have suggested several things such as social media courses for youth, online personalities teaching courses and giving talks on their work, and understanding how social media is a tool to promote their work, rather than the work itself.

We don’t want to lose our little police officers, doctors, football players, actors, or ballet dancers to an application on our smartphones. It is a must that kids grow up with an awareness that in the end it is substance that matters most, it is substance that can change the world, and that having something meaningful to share is much more important than the amount of likes and followers you gain.

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The author is a columnist on education and youth development.

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