The population of New York State is about 19.5 million people. If one tenth of one percent of those people followed me on Twitter, I would have nineteen thousand people following me. I think I could be very happy with that many followers.
The population of the United States is around 307m people. Again, if one tenth of one percent of those Americans followed me, I’d have 307k people following me. I’d be out of my gourd if I had that many followers.
While I don’t have a national stage and cannot hope to put in enough work to have that many followers – not now, perhaps not ever – I fully believe its possible. Whereas fame in the past came from convincing a small number of executives you were good enough and potentially popular enough for them to back you with contracts and promotion, these days simply having a voice is enough to gain you exposure on FaceBook and Twitter. Instead of having to appeal to a narrow set of interests shared by a broad swath of the country, now any unique perspective can find kindred spirits somewhere out there in the sprawling mass of social networks.
The trouble is: you can be convinced by your own hype – by the stove-piped collection of followers who appreciate your world view and cheer you on – that you’ve really got the answer. The answer to life’s burning questions; the solution for all that ails your future constituency; the moral rectitude that this world desperately needs. With thousands of adoring fans, you might be able to convince yourself that those fans aren’t just a statistically-meaningless micro-culture but the heart beat of America.
And perhaps I’m giving too much credit to – politicians? political celebrities? – like Sarah Palin and Carl Paladino, but I have long seen both of them as “victims” of this strange micro-celebrity echo chamber. When your “field of view,” as it were, is filled with adoring fans who insist you’re really hitting all the right notes, I think its easy to delude yourself. Because “no one” ever raised an objection, except the people you and your fans hate. The result is a persona and a trail of public statements that is ever-increasingly divorced from reality, to say nothing of electable mainstream thought.
Because of course, all 500k Sarah Palin followers will not win her the election in 2012. Not even if she adds her 2m FaceBook fans. Carl’s paltry 2000 followers (wow! Even I am about to pass him!) won’t get him into the Governor’s chair. Not even if he adds his 25k FaceBook fans. In the end, they’re just footnotes to the history they thought themselves the catalysts of.
Its not just political types that can get turned sideways, I’m sure. Anybody with just the right amount of exposure can start believing they can do things that maybe just aren’t possible. But when people think they’re in a position to dictate the policy and moral compass of the nation, things can get really ugly: