The Power of Influence

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be an influencer of others. As a designer, it is my duty to focus my work around my intended users (the trans* and gender variant community), it is my job to think of solutions for innately wicked problems (safety, gender expression and body dysmorphia), but it is also my prerogative to influence others.

Whether it be through our presentations last quarter when Alex and I talked about a trans* woman who was kicked out of her house at thirteen by her family when she came out, or through answering the multitude of questions we get from our friends and family, Alex and I have become influencers.

Why is this significant?
Let me take you on a thought experiment for a moment. Imagine that, completely at random, a tennis ball would appear and reappear next to you. You would be working in your office, and -plop!- a tennis ball materializes out of thin air and bounces off a wall. You try to catch it, and it disappears before you have a chance to touch it.

How would you react?

If you’re like me, you would reason it away by saying you were too tired that day, or you must be seeing things. But what if it started happening more regularly? Every day, at random intervals, a tennis ball would appear. Once you got over the initial shock, or maybe trying to show it to your friends to make sure you’re not crazy, you would probably work the occurrence into your every day life. Your friends would report soon after that they too have reappearing tennis balls in their offices as well.

At this point, if someone new to this were to walk into your office and see the tennis ball appear and disappear, you might say, “Oh yeah, that’s the reappearing tennis ball. You don’t have one?”

Not Just a Ball
The reappearing tennis ball is a metaphor for any new technology or thought pattern that has influenced the way we think about things. I remember a time when I said to my college roommate when she first introduced me to Facebook, “What’s the point of this, anyway? I can just call my friends.” Now I can’t think of my life without it.

That, to me, is the power of influence. That, over time, we can make something as bizarre as a reappearing tennis ball, or as bizarre as a place where you can follow the minutiae of your former babysitter’s life seem normal is such an amazing and powerful concept for me to behold.

We talked about it in theory class how Bernays changed the way we view bacon. America went from coffee and toast for breakfast to bacon, eggs, and all sorts of accoutrements. Now, I dare you to find an American who doesn’t view bacon as an essential part of a breakfast menu.

I initially came here to AC4D with hopes of “changing the world”, and that is a very broad statement compared to where I am now. I am now here to influence the way people think about our bodies, about gender, and about transition. It is still a tall order, but it is much more clear than a vague, feel-good goal.

I think all of us would benefit from being made more aware of the ways in which we influence others and are influenced by others. Influence is a powerful thing. It can turn the uncommon to common, and the outcasts into just another part of a fluid humanity.

And isn’t that incredible?