Another day, another misbehaving social influencer. Funny, that.
The last time I came through New Zealand Customs, the guy checking my form was in the mood for a yarn (I love this about Auckland Airport) and when seeing my occupation "Travel Writer" (very proud, first time using it) he noted:
"That's a rich person's job."
I spluttered, suddenly conscious of my organic cotton Kowtow track pants but also of my salary: "I work for the New Zealand Herald, mate, not for me it isn't!"
And he chuckled and agreed, saying "I like the Herald" and all was forgiven.
But for the most part, he's absolutely dead right.
I've been working in social media for seven years and have been a travel writer for the past six months, so I feel qualified to weigh in at this time of peak insanity.
The latest example of Influencer Entitlement Syndrome comes from Germany, a country in which a lot of people are doing rather well. We have professional travellers Cat with the tatts and Elena-who-looks-a-lot-like-Kate-Moss, who are very in love and very pale and very modelly.
They have been to New Zealand before and also have a mother who loves them and "we didn't ask for money" but she "loves that she is able to help". This mother works two jobs to help them, according to Cat and Elena. I can't help but think even this disclosure may be an obfuscation.
Right now, if you want to help them solve issues like climate change (really, guys?), mental health (uh huh...) or something, you can fund their next trip of a lifetime. I'll let them explain it, or not:
"We will show the beauty of this planet and it's[sic] inhabitants, but also the ugliness."
At this point, it almost has to be satire, right? People grifting for social media fame while pretending it's for the Greater Good. Pretending it's beneficial for young people to be more concerned about their next incredible, aspirational, perfect Instagram shot than their rent? Their retirement savings? Classic. Don't even get me started on your stated purpose of making a difference on "climate change". Obviously travel is wonderful but we cannot ignore the impact we make on our planet every time we fly.
I wish all social media tricks were this obvious. Instagram has become a huge platform for young New Zealanders, and our young people are gobbling this stuff up as if it is not only aspirational but achievable, when often it is the opposite.
Yes, there are authentic, transparent travel writing voices and other exceptional talents who build huge, authentic social media followings, but I would argue that the field is so crowded now that these are the exceptions to the rule.
These dreamy photos can be dangerous. If you're behind the curve on what's possible with image-editing, the beauty of "influencers" could seem real - it often isn't. People can add abdominal muscles to their photos, slim their waistlines and perfect their skin in seconds. Time magazine was not exaggerating when it called social media a "toxic mirror". Check out the Reddit community called "Instagramreality" for proof.
It is my theory that a lot of modern influencers have a lot of family money behind them. It feels like simple mathematics and I dropped mathematics too soon in high school.
Last week, Lexie Alford became the youngest person to travel to every country in the world. A quote from her; "I always knew I wanted to take time off to travel so I've been working every job I could find and saving since I was 12 years old."
Cue the giggles, snorts, scoffs. Hey Lexie, I was also a weird, ambitious kid who saved every penny I earned from the age of 12 and do you know what I had at 18? A thousand dollars. I'm almost a decade older than her, but my point stands.
Forgive me for being cynical about the idea that a 21-year-old can afford to fund their own travel around the world - without parental support - when here in Auckland, many can barely afford rent.
Last week tone-deaf Instagram model Natalie Schlater posted a photo of herself in a bikini (we have cropped out her bum, but she did not) gazing into an Indonesian rice field: "Thinking about how different my life is from the man picking rice in this field every single morning."
Unsurprisingly, commenters took issue with the pseudo reflection, the hashtag "depth". A moment of performative self-awareness that was all too skin deep.
Look again at the people you follow on Instagram. Do the numbers add up? Travel is really expensive! Are the desires they bring out in you good for your body and your livelihood? You don't need a picture of yourself in an infinity pool in Bali to be successful. I personally admire people who have quit social media most of all.
Although they are the devil to contact.