Influencing the World

By Sharon Mangas

My fifth grandchild is due in March, and like many of my fellow Prime-Timers, I think about the world our grandchildren will inherit. For better and for worse, today’s world is ruled by the internet. Cell phones, tablets, computers … every kind of electronic device, app and website … are ubiquitous. I imagine one of the top questions “Googled” today is, “What’s the right age for a child to get their first cell phone?” I wish there was a way to go back to simpler times, but that’s not going to happen. Our world is evolving. Relentlessly.

I can’t keep pace with all the internet catchphrases. One buzzword that confounds me is “influencer.” I had to look it up. (Online, of course.) Here’s a definition from mediakix.com:

“…at their core, influencers are social media personalities with loyal audiences that they earned by sharing content that inspires, entertains, informs, and connects them with their followers. This direct line of communication empowers influencers to generate social conversations, drive engagement, and ultimately, set trends amongst a receptive and socially savvy audience.”

The current top-ten Instagram influencers listed in visualcapitalist.com — ranked by popularity — are: Cristiano Ronaldo (soccer), Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, Dwayne Johnson, Katy Perry, Kylie Jenner, Rihanna and, ta-da, Kim Kardashian. Millions of people follow this group religiously. I’m not sure how Dwayne Johnson fits in there. And inspiration from the Kardashians? Aren’t they famous for, well, just being famous?

The cult of personality has always loomed large in our culture, it’s just in our faces more often these days. Celebrities are everywhere. I’ll ‘fess up: I used to read People Magazine regularly, but today’s celebs in pop-culture news are mostly unknown to me.

My hope is to introduce my grandchildren to “influencers” who’ve accomplished great things, so they know the world is more than vacuous celebrities living red-carpet lives. I want them to have role models of achievement.

The first influencer I followed was Eleanor Roosevelt, not as First Lady, but as a journalist. Her column, My Day, ran in newspapers from 1935 to 1962, six days a week. Take it from a writer, that’s a lot of deadlines. I remember reading Mrs. Roosevelt’s column as a child and asking my mother who this Eleanor lady was. Mother told me she was a brilliant and well-respected woman, interested in bettering the world, and she was the widow of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the most influential president of her (my mom’s) generation. I was only eleven when her column ended, but she made an impression on me that’s never diminished.

I reviewed some lists of important women in history (sorry guys, it’s past time for women to get some credit) and came up with some top-ten influencers I like: Sojourner Truth, Florence Nightingale, Marie Curie, Helen Keller, Rachel Carson, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Anne Frank, Susan B. Anthony and, of course, Eleanor Roosevelt. All brilliant women who weren’t afraid to stick their necks out to effect change. This group fought for others, not themselves. They fought for the environment, science, civil rights, women’s rights, better health care, compassion for the poor, rising above disabilities and, in the case of Anne Frank, shining a light on the evil of fascism; a light we didn’t see until she died. These women didn’t seek celebrity, they sought to make the world a better place for humankind.

My hope is that despite the constant electronic babble that fills our world, I can find some quiet moments to share biographies of real influencers with my grandchildren. I want to inspire them to reach for the stars, not the “stars.”

Sharon Mangas writes for The Republic. Send comments to [email protected] or 812-379-5624.