What does JJ, my three-year-old daughter, want to be when she grows up? Depending on what time of the day this question is posed, her response might vary.
If she’s just come home from school, she’ll want to be a teacher, “just like Ms Katrina” from her nursery class.
Or if we’ve just brought our helper to the clinic for her routine medical checkup, JJ would then aspire to be a doctor, “to help people feel better when they have a boo-boo”.
And after a leisurely evening walk with our dog, she will declare earnestly that when she grows up, she really wants to be… Vito.
Of course, being the encouraging father that I am, I dutifully tell my darling daughter that when she grows up, she can be whatever her heart desires – yes, even Vito, the family mongrel. And whatever occupation she chooses in the future, Daddy will always be very, very proud.
But for now, can she just please sit still for the next 10 minutes to chew the dinner that’s been stewing in her mouth for the last 15, so that I don’t have to chase her around the room while she brandishes a blunt fork, screeching, “I am Vito! Pee pee pee!! Kick kick kick!!”
(When Daddy grows up, he just wants to be in bed for a long, long time.)
Much has been prophesied about the employment landscape that our children will have to contend with. With technology and artificial intelligence taking over so much of what we do today, it’s hard to say what jobs will be available for today’s kids when they’re ready for the workforce – those jobs probably don’t even exist yet.
And this phenomenon isn’t new either. Twenty years ago, if we were to ask our three-year-olds what they’d like to be when they grow up, neither parent nor child would have thought that “Drone Pilot” would be an available option.
Or “Mobile App Developer”.
Or even “Instagram Influencer”.
I mean, who would’ve imagined then that people would one day get paid to play… I mean, operate a remote-control hovercraft?
And who would’ve thought that we would one day need a global army of programmers, tasked to create tiny pieces of software for our even tinier pieces of mobile phones, so that we can perform the essential tasks of our modern lives – buying groceries, trading on the stock market, and digitally correcting our fat faces in photographs?
Oh, and I’m sure no one saw this coming 20 years ago: That in the not-too-distant future, putting up tiny square photographs of your attractive self onto the Internet would count as a form of gainful employment. (But only if said photographs depict the Instagram Influencer in various states of happiness, pensiveness or undress.)
My daughter doesn’t yet understand the concept of KOLs, LOLs, Instagram grids or string bikinis. I intend to keep it that way until she’s a bit older and can more suitably exercise self-control when it comes to screen time – probably when she’s around 36. I rue the day when little JJ realises that “Social Media Influencer” is an actual occupation (and a potentially well-paying one, at that), and decides that she no longer wants to be Vito when she grows up.
And because I work in the media industry, I can perfectly understand the allure of such personality marketing. Anyone who commands an audience can become a platform to attract advertising dollars – it really isn’t rocket science. The real struggle is, as a parent, having to explain what these Influencers have to do to command this audience.
For example, if I had to explain how someone becomes a doctor, I might be inclined to say that it involves “many years of studying really hard”. Or if I had to explain how someone becomes a teacher, I would probably use words like: “A strong desire to nurture.”
But when explaining the qualities that make someone a sterling Influencer, I fear I would more likely be conjuring up words like: “skinny”; “pretty” and “very hot” (hence the propensity for frequently donning string bikinis). And young, impressionable JJ, even with her limited vocabulary, might think herself perfect for this job, since she is always complaining about being “very hot” and exhorting us to “go to an air-con place” for lunch.
All this consternation might be a little bit premature for a father of a three-year-old. But I can’t be the only parent thinking about this. There must be many of us out there, asking themselves what they would do when their young child discovers the world of gainfully employed Instagram Influencers. How will we, as good responsible parents, explain a world where people are always beautiful/happy/making heart symbols with their hands? More importantly, where do the parents sign up?
Raymond is the publishing director of SPH magazines. Everything written here is based on his own personal experiences.