Keeping Up with the Coronavirus: Can Influencers Fix What They Ruined?

The decade of selfie sticks, foodstagrams and travel influencers is over. Gazing into an uncertain future, in which “facemask” no longer equates to “skincare routine”, we explore the changing role of influencers, the future of virtue signalling and say: bring back the fedoras already.

Right, hands up. Who's had enough? The coquettish downward glances. The hotel breakfasts dangerously splayed on white Egyptian-cotton bed linen. And quite possibly the most offensive of all: the wide-brimmed fedoras.

Last Thursday, as I twiddled my flaky, quarantine-dry thumbs for the 349th time that morning, an influencer of average-level fame accumulated thousands of likes and the related royalties for prostrating herself on the stairs of a five-star London hotel. It was a #throwback, of course, but it just didn't land quite right.

As the coronavirus continues to spread, it has been fascinating to watch capitalism bend to its dictates. Restaurant chain Leon is pivoting from being a lunchtime pit-stop to a series of pop-up mini-marts, peppy celebrity gym instructors have muscled their way into our homes via our laptops (worse things have happened) and high-street breweries such as BrewDog are serving people what they really want: hand sanitiser. For a certain type of influencer, rebuilding the wheel is less straight-forward.

Disclaimer: #NotAllInfluencers. While we at SUITCASE have been honoured to work with some of the best influencers in the business - sparky young creatives who use their platforms to call out injustices and confront awkward conversations - the teenies signalled a tidal change in our travel habits, for the worse.

It was the decade of selfie sticks and foodstagram. Everyone wanted to be a travel influencer - consciously or not, myself included. Trips became fodder for my own insatiable narcissism, pointless if not bookended by much-liked before and after Instagram posts (and a trickle of updates in between).

Yet double-tappable content comes at a price. Financially, yes. Ecologically, too. New Year's Day was a real baptism of fire this year, as flames ravaged Australia's forestry. I'm not naive to the role I played in this destruction. As I raced against the Instagram scroll to fill my grid with irresistibly snackable snapshots from all four corners of the globe, I smothered difficult questions about global warming and carbon offsetting with my pug-print travel pillow. Of course, keeping up with the Kardashians takes its toll mentally, too.

Forgive me for making the understatement of the year, but change is afoot. If the coronavirus has done anything so far, it has brought the perils of selfishness closer to home.

It's easy to assuage the guilt of buying a plastic carrier bag when you're 12,000ft above the seabed or to flippantly overlook the cardboard recycling bin when you're too far from a rainforest to hear a tree fall. Sorry, Greta. But when sourdough pizza with pals equates to neighbours on ventilators, it's remarkable how quickly you relegate your own selfish urges.

To survive in this new world - one in which "face mask" no longer means "skincare routine" but "daily survival mechanism" - travel influencers, as we know them, will have to undergo their own metamorphosis.

I'm loath to reel off that galling aphorism "it's not about the destination, it's about the journey", but I just did, so there.

My prediction? By 2021, Instagram will be about the people, not the journey. It will be less about pursuing our own agendas and more about weaving ourselves into the weft of a global network so that if (hypothetically) some kind of Black Mirror-esque murderous virus were to (speculatively) percolate through every crevice of our communities, we might have the collective knowledge stop it in its tracks.

Prepare for a new wave of disgustingly ethical virtue signals: #ConnectAndProtect #Togethergram #Ecogasm. I'm feeling nauseous already. Please, bring back the fedoras.

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