Our social media feeds have become so flooded with influencers that some people are wondering whether the “influencer bubble” has burst. Given the uncharted territory, it is difficult to imagine how the future of influencing, and future of social media in general, will look.
Well, author Megan Angelo has a few (disturbing) ideas. Angelo’s debut novel Followers is a gripping cautionary tale where a societal collapse leads to a Big Brother-like society, complete with technology like chips installed into humans and uncanny valley robots.
I asked Angelo some questions about the novel, out from Graydon House on Jan. 14.
Warning there are overarching plot spoilers below.
I’d love to know about your writing process. How did the idea for Followers come about?
I was writing in my journal one day — I write in cursive — and I realized that the kids and grandkids I imagined reading my journal one day probably wouldn’t be able to decode my handwriting, since cursing is getting phased out of schools. It kind of rocked me — it felt like this futuristic revelation, but at the same time really outside the way we often think about the future, in terms of science and tech and broad-scale shifts.
I’m not a sci-fi or dystopia writer, so I thought, ‘I wonder if I could write something that was set in the future, but do it just as a woman, a mom, a daughter.’ I wanted to think more about the emotional implications of advancing technology and changing culture than about robots. Although robots definitely showed up anyway.
In addition to tech, motherhood and friendship are at the center of Followers. Did you go into writing Followers with all three themes in mind; if not, what came first?
I didn’t think consciously about the themes, but I knew that women would be at the center of the story, and that because of their ages they would each consider whether or not to be mothers. Even though a lot of the action in the story feels big and epic, those decisions drive it.
As for friendship, I thought more deeply about that as I went. I had to figure out what kind of person Orla would have to be to hang with a narcissist like Floss, and the answer, of course, was someone really desperate for friendship.
One of my favorite parts of writing the book was getting to point out that Floss, to Orla, is basically that friend that you’re like “she’s crazy, if I talk to her on the phone for five minutes I have to lay down for two hours.” She sucks the life out of Orla, but she’s cured her loneliness, too. I think all of us have relationships like that, with tradeoffs that work until they don’t.
Followers seems like a cautionary tale for where our society can go if we push tech too far. Are you yourself wary of influencer culture and social media?
I’m really not a purist on either end of the spectrum. I’m still on Facebook, and I’m on Instagram and Twitter. I gobble up stuff other people share — I have no judgment — but I don’t have a strong inclination to share, myself.
I’m thirty-five, and I think I’m just a little too old for it to come naturally — I mean, when I was in college and my early twenties, I was still taking a digital camera with me everywhere. Now I’m just having this montage in my head of flashbacks to me dropping many digital cameras on the floors of many bars and watching the batteries and memory card and lid scatter everywhere.
As for influencers… I guess personally, I think I have a healthy relationship with them, like kind of the equivalent of nodding your way through conversation with someone at a party who sounds slightly insane but has a nice, soothing voice. Sometimes their content is just pleasing to look at. I saved a picture of Eva Martino’s bathroom from Instagram today. Will I ever have this bathroom? Probably not, but thinking I might someday gave me a moment of joy.
And sometimes, the over the top nature of it all makes me laugh — like how things will come out of nowhere. Can someone explain to me when every influencer in the world started putting these little Amish-style bonnets on their babies?
For you, how is journalistic writing different from novel writing?
Most of my career in journalism has involved writing celebrity profiles or interviewing celebrities in tightly managed situations, where publicists are very involved and there’s not a lot of spontaneity in the subject’s answers because, you know, they’re famous, and there are restrictions around what they can say and what I can ask. So one of the greatest joys of writing Followers was creating characters who are, eventually, huge celebrities, and then making them say whatever I wanted.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on two new books right now, which works out well, since on any given day one of them seems like absolute garbage to me. I trade off. One is about three moms at a barre studio who learn that it’s a front for something more mysterious, and they’re enlisted in this underground force.
The other is about two lifelong best friends who, in high school, kind of ruined their third friend’s life after they thought she pulled a reverse Catfish on them — allegedly made up a person and pretended to be chatting with her on AOL all the time, that kind of thing, because it’s set in 1999. Twenty years later, the person these girls swore wasn’t real walks into their life, and they have to reckon with what they did to their friend and figure out who this woman actually is.
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