Our Brave New Influencers

In early Year 11, one of my friends turned to me one lunchtime and announced that she was “quitting sugar.”


I asked her why, of course at that age, the concept of fad diets was still beyond me. She answered, simply, that she ate too much of it, so she had to quit. It struck me as a rather extreme response to her problem. Predictably, her resolve lasted for all of three days.


But though the subject was different, the all-or-nothing approach to addressing her problem was actually entirely understandable. Within my year group, it was already common to hear refrains of “I’m deleting Instagram” prior to the ‘exams’ we took in Year 9. Another friend would commit to reading 100 books at the beginning of each year, no matter the previous year’s total. At 13, I decided that my morning routine lacked productivity and committed myself to an enforced 5am alarm every day. These resolutions would pass as quickly as we made them. We were obsessed with unachievable commitments to our productivity, forgetting one failed scheme to renew our enthusiasm for another three months later. 


Perhaps if one of our resolutions were to “read more classic dystopian novels,” we would have stumbled upon the explanation for our behaviour.


There is no shortage of eloquent social commentaries extolling the prophetic genius of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. His depiction of a society controlled by its need for instant gratification appears more prescient as each passing year is accompanied by a technological innovation more addictive than its predecessor. The rise of the short-term video has caused many of us to sense a contraction in our attention span. And yet, often because of this, we can’t look away.


These on-the-nose similarities make for an easy comparison, what I imagine columnists reach for if they’ve spent too long in a productivity-killing infinite scroll of procrastination.


But in many ways, the presence of such an obvious comparison obscures other key aspects of Brave New World, ideas that can explain our behaviour in a much more nuanced capacity than suggesting that we have all become iPad baby losers.


The novel’s protagonist, John, or alternatively, the Savage, is raised unencumbered by the World State’s conditioning, propaganda and hedonism. On a visit to London, he reacts convulsively to the pleasure-seeking attitudes of its inhabitants, particularly when confronted by their sexual freedom. After his mother’s death, caused by her overconsumption of the state-supported, mood-altering drug Soma, he withdraws into an ascetic lifestyle characterised by self-flagellation. Eventually, unable to cope with his perceived inability to purify himself of desire and the World State, he hangs himself.


Though John is the antithesis of an evidently dystopian society, Huxley hardly portrays him as our model alternative. Instead, in a foreword penned 15 years after the novel’s original publication, Huxley opined that, if he were to rewrite the book, he “would offer the Savage a third alternative…the possibility of sanity.”


Without John’s arc towards self-destruction, however, Brave New World would lose a secondary prescient aspect: its depiction of how we react to lifestyles we believe to be in excess.


For most of my male friends, it seems to take at most four swipes down their Instagram Reels before a self-styled alpha male starts to lecture them on the benefits of cutting off their friends who don’t own investment properties, for the grind. Though this specific style of video is designed to appeal to men, the message is genre-bending: it kind of reminds me of watching Ruby Granger 14-hour study vlogs during high school.


Responding to the prevalence of processed foods in our diets, health influencers promote fad diets that go far beyond “reduction”: if you fall down the wrong algorithm you can expect to find increasingly extreme keto, intermitting fasting and even raw vegan (whatever the fuck that is) diets. ‘That girl’, a proponent of self-care and productivity who provokes awe and jealousy in her followers, also wakes up at 5am every morning to do pilates (and add new finds to their Amazon storefronts).


The irony of this content that ostensibly subverts our desire for constant entertainment is that it is fed to us on the very apps that its creators so often disavow. 


Bar a few exceptions, the vast majority of people I know fall clearly between Huxley’s Savage and citizens of the New World. We seem sane. We consume the influencers on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. But we do not live their lives.


Sometimes though, perhaps after a particularly long bout of scrolling, when we know we absolutely should be doing something else – writing that essay, reading a book, making the most of our summer for God’s sake – we are tempted. We understand we are sliding too close to the Huxleyan precipice. We are repulsed by ourselves. We realise something must change.


And so we default to the behaviour that is modelled to us, but that should not be our model. We make commitments like my friends and I did in high school, commitments we most often fail and renege on. Influencers create characters, who may or may not actually live the lives they espouse. Us, though, we are mortals, and incapable of living at an ascetic extreme which is no more desirable than a hedonistic one.


Instead, we find ourselves bouncing back, and forth, within the realm of sanity. We, as people, are invisible within Huxley’s novel. Nonetheless, we remain shaped by his observations.

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.