Chasing their dreams, not followers
Article from The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2019
SINGAPORE - He proposed and she agreed to marry him - but on one condition: that they go on an adventure first.
That is how their story begins.
Last weekend, I met Australians Steve Crombie, 40, and Amelia Darmawan, 30, at a conference I attended in Bali.
They spoke about selling everything they owned, closing down the physical office of their digital media consulting company, and setting off on a trip from Sydney to New York by motorbike and boat - no planes allowed.
The duo shared stories of the things they had seen, the people they had met while on the road and also the hardships they faced.
Their intention is to go on this adventure, take lots of videos of their journey and show their children that "their parents were once bada**es".
Despite their amazing story and riveting posts - 210 on Instagram so far - this attractive couple have less than 2,500 followers on their Instagram account @theextreme.life. In comparison, some young millennial influencers have more than 100,000 followers on Instagram.
To fund their travels, Steve and Amelia run their consultancy while on the road, with clients and consultants all over the world - Asia, Europe, North America and Oceania - and year-long projects.
One of their Instagram posts has Steve on the phone in a shack by the roadside, in Malaysia. Part of the caption reads: "Our office changes day to day - and on this day, it looked like this."
Another post has them in the depths of the Malaysian jungle, by a river, each holding a fish - their haul after learning to catch fish with their bare hands.
Yet another shows them in Indonesia, posing with a family from Argentina, who had been on the road with their two children - disproving the adage that having kids will change your life.
It has been slightly more than a year and a half since they started their journey and the rough goal is to complete it in three years.
What I cannot understand is how people taking photos of themselves in beautiful clothes in boring settings (which account for a large swath of well-followed influencers on Instagram) could possibly be more popular than people in the midst of a genuine adventure.
Perhaps the photos of typical influencers have more saturated colours or a more cohesive aesthetic.
Perhaps they show more skin than Amelia and Steve put together.
Perhaps they know exactly what their market segment wants and post photos that please their crowd.
Their success in gaining followers is probably the result of all of the above and more.
I have nothing against influencers who are trying to increase their following. It is not just out of vanity, it is also good business sense as they can parlay their popularity into selling products or endorsing brands.
A 22-year-old influencer, who has nearly 180,000 followers, told The Straits Times earlier this year that she charges $1,500 for every sponsored Instagram post and $500 for every sponsored Instagram story.
When I spoke to Steve, he said there is probably a lack of awareness about what he and Amelia are doing and he could do more to bump up the numbers, but that is not their aim.
The posts, he says, are for themselves and their future children.
The intention of the account holder undoubtedly has an impact on the account's popularity, but how do people decide who is worth following?
If the assumption is that people follow accounts that interest and inspire them, then what is it that draws them in?
Many say authenticity is the key.
If that is the case, the couple should have hordes of followers, because I cannot imagine anything more authentic than a post of Steve on a hospital bed in Bangkok recovering from Scrub Typhus, or of him on the deck of a sailboat paralysed with seasickness.
I do not think @theextreme.life's follower numbers wallow in the 2,000s due to a lack of self-promotion or authenticity.
Rather, it is because selling one's material possessions and going on an adventure is no longer a dream for many.
Although social media has the capacity to widen our world view, it has ironically led to much navel-gazing.
For many, the constant barrage on social media of the perfectly curated lives of beautiful people and the things they flaunt has defined what a full and happy life means.
And for those who aspire to become the very people they follow, they emulate this acquisitive lifestyle in their own accounts.
I think Steve and Amelia have their priorities right. Like them, I would chase experiences, not things - and definitely not followers.