Since the dot-com bubble and the early days of MySpace, there have been major paradigm shifts within the human realms of psychology, philosophy, communications, economics, technology, and employment (among many others).
In many ways, these shifts have changed human life as we know it (in the developed world), and have recently been spearheaded by my generation – the millennials.
With that said, I recently collaborated with, and consequently shot portraits of Rachel David – a Toronto-based journalist, producer, entrepreneur, influencer talent relations agency founder, and professional funny woman, whose personas and entrepreneurial adventures embody many of the cultural paradigms that define my generation.
At the age of 19, after graduating from the Radio Broadcast program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, Rachel moved to Toronto to pursue a career in television, in the midst of the last great recession, and as the digital media revolution began to explode, only to realize that the career opportunities and upward mobility in Toronto’s television world were non-existent for her (at the time).
As such, she teamed up with a group of friends to create and contribute to the BestFan digital platform, wherein she primarily focused on hosting and producing BestFan TV.
Eventually, she began working for Rogers Media, which aligned with some of her high school ambitions, and which provided her with a great deal of professional opportunities and connections.
However, approximately a year ago, Rachel was let go from her job, which was both unexpected and shocking from her perspective, and which caused her to no longer identify with the presently outdated notion of job security via the Western corporate ladder.
It was at this point that Rachel decided to start her YouTube channel and entrepreneurial journey, while dexterously leveraging the myriad of connections that she had made over the course of her career, in what I view as the millennial equivalent of the hero’s journey.
Based on a recent study conducted by the Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives, “five years after the global economic meltdown, youth employment levels remain significantly depressed, tracking much lower than the national average. Among the report’s key findings: In 2013, the unemployment rate for Ontario youth aged 15-24 fluctuated between 16% and 17.1%, trending above the Canadian range of 13.5% to 14.5% and placing Ontario as the worst province outside Atlantic Canada for high youth unemployment.”
And so, even though Rachel may be highly-employable, long-term job security within a Fortune 500 company is not as sure of a thing for many North American millennials that were recently let go from their jobs, in comparison to baby boomers that were once in similar positions.
In many ways, carving out her own path could potentially be quite stable for Rachel, in the long-term, and no more risky than having a full-time job.
Rachel’s professional journey seems to be a natural by product of, and reaction to, what Andrew Langille of Canadian Business has described as “the ascendency of precarious work” for millennials in Canada.
According to Lagille, “for young workers, precarious work means problems linked to job quality, economic vulnerability, insufficient wages, and a profound power imbalance in the workplace. Insecurity and anxiety reign as young workers cycle through temporary contracts, part-time jobs, or freelance gigs.”
Beyond the economic forces that have shaped Rachel’s career, what I find most interesting are the social, psychological, and philosophical forces behind her journey. More specifically, the YouTube aspect of Rachel’s profession is in-part, a great example of the individualistic ideals that define my generation, and which I am not immune to.
This phenomenon is eloquently outlined in David Brooks’s RSA Talk entitled “The Importance of Character”, wherein he states that “we told a couple of generations how great they are, and they believed us. In 1950, a polling organization asked American 16 year olds, “are you a very important person?”, and at that point, 12% said yes. They asked the same question in the 1990s, and at that point, 80% said yes.”
Even though Rachel’s YouTube channel focuses primarily on sharing various aspects of her life and entrepreneurial journey, one of the many things that I found intriguing about her during our photo shoot, was the fact that she has recently shifted her focus from herself (and growing her YouTube channel), to providing her many influencer friends with work and strategic partnerships.
If you are unfamiliar with the influencer phenomena, an influencer is essentially a person who has the power to influence many people (between tens of thousands and tens of millions), primarily online, and who is consequently a media property unto themselves, turning good looks and taste into an income stream. In other words, brands pay them to feature their products and/or services through platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snap.
Through Hashtag Communications – Rachel’s influencer talent relations firm, she has been leveraging her greatest asset as an entrepreneur, which is the relationships that she has cultivated with various corporate entities, and influencers whose online followings are in the millions.
Moreover, a recently-published Digiday article states that “66% of more than 200 marketers surveyed by user-generated content marketing firm Chute have an influencer-marketing strategy in place. The top goal, based on 80% of the respondents, is to reach a new audience, while 70% look to reach a niche audience.”
Based on Rachel’s unique skill set and relationships, the influencer marketing world could be quite lucrative and fulfilling for her and her colleagues (on a number of levels), despite the fact that it is an incredibly unregulated and relatively new subset of digital marketing.
To me, the current state of the digital media landscape, which includes digital marketing and influencer marketing, is very interesting, for a number of reasons. Firstly, because the barriers to entry into numerous industries and entrepreneurial ventures are so low, it is now far easier and more cost effective to step onto the path of becoming an entrepreneur or creative professional than it was before the early 2000s. Secondly, social media potentially allows one to share one’s work and ideas with millions of people around the world, with minimal resources (in comparison to a syndicated television show or print publication). Thirdly, one can test a proof of concept within a given market, with very little risk involved.
However, my generations’ relationship to digital media, especially through social media, presents a number of potentially detrimental implications, and has caused me to ask myself numerous questions.
Is there a direct correlation between the size of one’s online audience and one’s inherent talent? Is possessing a relatively large online audience an endeavour that can be deemed meaningful or virtuous? Are influencers and major corporations promoting products that truly improve the lives of consumers? Is digital marketing simply a relatively new way of distracting us from asking meaningful, and potentially threatening existential questions that are simply not as fun as watching a 45-second King Bach Instagram video? Is Bella Hadid any more or less of a celebrity or icon than Jerry Seinfeld? How does digital media help individuals cultivate meaning and purpose in their lives? How has social media impacted consumerism and capitalism? How does social media effect the interpersonal relationships of millennials and younger generations? What are the mental health implications of compulsive social media use? How do the carefully curated social media profiles of millennials and younger generations affect their self-esteem and how they relate to themselves and others? Can anyone do what Rachel does? Can anyone become an influencer or online celebrity, or are there hundreds, if not thousands of unique variables that allow a relatively small group of individuals to make a living from YouTube, Snap, Instagram, and other social media channels? Is the current digital media landscape compounding the individualistic nature of my generation and younger generations? What is the return on investment of influencer marketing? What are the upsides to digital media?
I lack many of the answers to these questions, and I believe that far more research needs to be done on digital media in the 21st century, and how it effects my generation and younger generations (on a global scale), physiologically, psychologically, philosophically, spiritually, socially, politically, economically, and otherwise.
In the meantime, as an artist and entrepreneur, I respect what Rachel does, I appreciate how cool, genuine, candid, and transparent she is through her social media profiles and YouTube videos, and I look forward to collaborating with her again. What’s more, I find her career path fascinating, and I view her as an interesting case study on the millennial version of the hero’s journey, on entrepreneurship in the digital age, and on numerous truisms of my generation.