Parker was still a youth when he decided what he wanted to be when he grew up. After some time using some fun apps on his smartphone, it had all become clear to him. He proudly told everyone who asked. He had no doubt what he was going to do with his life.
But it was kind of frustrating when “social media influencer” wasn’t in the career interest tests he took in school as a teenager.
He got started before he even graduated. Why wait? he thought. So he started a podcast, a video channel, and social media accounts. At first, only family members were following, but Parker kept at it. He watched content trends on the platforms of the influencers of the day and posted content on the same topics. He learned to see patterns and developed a talent for detecting when something would become a trend so he could get in on it before it even became a trend—and thereby, he hoped, help it become one.
After a few years of modest growth in attention, his excitement surged when one of the influencers he followed left a comment on one of his videos and tagged him in a public message in her main social media account. Soon, Parker’s counts of followers and subscribers climbed into the hundreds and then thousands. With those followers came qualification to make money from ads. The pingbacks, cross-posts, and re-posts compounded. He started collaborating with other influencers, and the attention ballooned.
What was popular or considered worthy of attention changed frequently. Parker stayed ahead of enough of these topics that he could leap to a new topic before interest in the current one fully waned. It was a challenge, but Parker managed it. People cared what he thought, and his posts and podcast episodes affected what they thought. Before his very eyes, Parker could see that he was influencing.
And his influence was bringing in the money. He felt like he was making a difference in the world. He had become important. It was a dream come true.
Parker became a rich man. He bought a sprawling house with loads of entertainment options. He filled the massive garage with sports cars and motorcycles. He enhanced his home theater with all the latest gaming consoles. Friends came over for movie and gaming parties that lasted until the sun came up.
Mere months later, disaster crashed down. A scandal broke surrounding one of the influencers Parker had collaborated with. She was arrested for illegal financial activity. Her followers evaporated, some even turning into active detractors. Parker had never had financial dealings with her, so he couldn’t be implicated. But the wrath of the followers extended to him and others within this woman’s high-profile circle.
Before he knew it, Parker’s follower and subscriber totals plummeted. The money from online ads dried up. Parker sold one car, then another, and then a motorcycle. Before long, his garage stood empty. Finally, he had to sell his house and move into a one-bedroom apartment, which he paid for with government welfare checks while he searched for a new job. But no one would hire him because of his history of connections with the fallen social media star.
One day, Parker was walking home from the grocery store, a plastic bag hanging from each hand, when he saw someone familiar coming toward him. Ashamed to be seen by anyone who would recognize him, Parker hung his head. But it was too late.
The voice didn’t sound angry or belittling. He stopped and looked up through his eyebrows.
“Do you remember me?” the other asked. He was dressed neatly, had a trimmed beard, his short hair combed. Unlike Parker. The man held out his hand and continued, “Lucas Feldmann. We knew each other in high school.”
Parker stared. Lucas Feldmann? They had been friends, but in Parker’s fixation on dominating the social media sphere, he had stopped talking to Lucas once they graduated. He realized he didn’t know anything about what Lucas had been up to in the years since.
“I hear things have been a bit tough for you lately,” Lucas said. “The court of public opinion and all. Come on, I’ll buy you lunch and we can catch up.” Parker almost said no, but he was hungry, and it would save him a few bucks. So he agreed.
They went into a café and ordered some food. While they waited, Lucas asked some questions, and Parker ended up unloading. He talked about his rise on social media and how quickly everything he’d built had fallen apart. Parker didn’t finish talking until their plates were nearly empty.
“So … what career did you end up going into?” he asked somewhat belatedly.
Lucas smiled and swallowed a drink from his cup. “Well, it’s kind of interesting. I decided right out of high school that I wasn’t going to let my fortunes be tied to the vicissitudes of life. Things change so fast. I wanted to do something for which there would always be a need no matter what happened. Something reliable. Something bulletproof. And I found it.”
Parker gawked again. “It doesn’t exist. It can’t. Everything can change. Anyone can find himself ruined at a moment’s notice. What line of work did you go into?”
With a shrug, Lucas said, “I’m a mortician.”
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