The Internet’s Lucrative Dream Industry: Fueled by Our Need to Believe

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The Internet is flooded with fake success. 

The number of financial success formulas for sale online is endless. Most (gasp), if not all, are worthless. They are sold by Internet talking heads, aka “gurus”—self-proclaimed mentors, coaches, thought leaders and experts—promising health, wealth, and happiness if you buy their courses, which are, in most cases, rehashed generic advice. 

Want to earn $10,000 a month using only your laptop? Is this really possible? Many people believe it is, hence, why there are an endless number of gurus online selling the claim you can live your dream lifestyle. All you need to do is register for their free training, then enroll in their course, typically priced at $197, and put in the work, which is always “minimal.”

Throughout their adverts, gurus display stagged evidence of their success, private jets, high-performance cars, luxurious mansions and, for good measure, a stack of cash, to encourage viewers to dream. (“Yes, you can have all this.”) The pitches are the same: You can learn their secret to success! It could be drop shipping, affiliate marketing, coaching, consulting, cryptocurrency trading, social media marketing, property flipping, high ticket sales, or even simply thinking positively. Their lure is the promise of becoming a millionaire, a universal desire among Westerners.

Gurus have always fascinated me; however, I do wonder: Why do these supposed millionaires sell courses on how to become a millionaire? The alchemist who discovers how to turn iron into gold stays at home building their stash, not creating webinars. Since transmutation is impossible, gurus do the next best thing. Using social media’s vast reach, they roleplay like they have the Holy Grail, selling a step-by-step video course outlining how, like them, you too can become financially independent. What gurus never revealed is that their income actually comes from the courses/promises they sell, not what they teach. 

People want to get rich, and with inequality growing, the hunger for a secret cheat code is powerful; hence, what people believe is predictable. This predictability is strategically exploited by gurus. 

Social media and the Internet have many negative aspects: inadequacy about your appearance, fear of missing out (FOMO), cyberbullying, causing depression, anxiety and loneliness. Overlooked: Social media allows people to spread false narratives in unprecedented ways, the most common being, “I have the answer!” 

Imagine if Napoleon Hill (1883-1970), who wrote Think and Grow Rich, published in 1937 amid the Great Depression and Dale Carnegie, who wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People, implying that the primary reason to make friends is to get what you want from them, published in 1936 had the Internet and social media to market their respective “success formula.”

The decade after Y2K saw the widespread use of personal computers, the launch of mainstream social media networks, and the proliferation of smartphones—we connected. Not surprisingly, the porn industry, the ultimate fantasy-selling industry, was the first to take advantage of this new mass communication technology. Then came the gurus who shamelessly created an industry of bait-and-switch, promising incredible success while delivering meaningless training. 

The foundation for the guru explosion was laid in the early 2000s. The majority, especially younger generations, were sold on the belief anyone could achieve financial success without working a nine-to-five job; they just needed to believe in themselves and use the right systems. Moreover, it was no longer taboo to commodify yourself and others for personal gain.

Perhaps you are wondering, what is the harm? It is only self-proclaimed gurus selling courses online! Sure, their courses are a bunch of fairy tales designed to convince you there are quick and easy shortcuts to financial success, but even a stopped watch tells the correct time twice a day, and who knows, these courses might have made some people a millionaire. The fact that I have never encountered such a person does not mean they do not exist. 

Yes, we live in a free market; however, these charlatans (READ: fake educators) are siphoning money from the naive and the vulnerable, those looking to join those who appear not to have the financial stress they have, like the gurus peddling their courses claim.

The new American dream: If you try hard enough, if you believe in yourself, if you make friends and influence them, if you build a personal brand that conveys “I’m a success!” and if you use the right systems to monetize your curated audience, then, you can make your dreams come true. 

Alternatively, not believing, or even doubting, the gurus can be horrifying. By admitting the Internet talking heads are selling digital snake oil, you are admitting everything—health, wealth, even happiness—is out of your hands and, therefore, beyond your control. Acknowledging the courses/systems the gurus are selling does not seem right; in other words, heeding the adage, When something looks too good to be true, it usually is, you acknowledge that no course or system is a shortcut to success. This requires embracing the life truism, which you have control over, that the key to success is perseverance and hard work.

My advice that will save you time and money: Never take advice from someone who makes money from giving it.

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Nick Kossovan, a self-described connoisseur of human psychology, writes about what’s on his mind from Toronto. You can follow Nick on Twitter and Instagram @NKossovan

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