I just spent three days at VidCon, the annual social media convention in Anaheim, hanging out with a few thousand current and future internet celebrities. And it’s increasingly obvious to me that the teenagers and 20-somethings who have mastered these platforms — and who are often dismissed as shallow, preening narcissists by adults who don’t know any better — are going to dominate not just internet culture or the entertainment industry but society as a whole.


One day at VidCon, I hung out with a crew of teenage Instagram stars, who seemed to spend most of their time filming “collabs” with other creators and complimenting one another on their “drip,” influencer-speak for clothes and accessories. (In their case, head-to-toe Gucci and Balenciaga outfits with diamond necklaces and designer sneakers.) Another day, I witnessed an awkward dance battle between two budding TikTok influencers, neither of whom could have been older than 10.


Natalie Alzate, a YouTuber with more than 10 million subscribers who goes by Natalies Outlet, is an example of the wave of influencers who treated their online brand-building as a business rather than a fun hobby. Four years ago, when Ms. Alzate first came to VidCon, she was a marketing student with fewer than 7,000 subscribers. She decided to study her favorite YouTubers, watch how they made their videos and then test videos in multiple genres, seeing which ones performed best on her channel.


“I grew up watching people, like Michelle Phan, that were building legacies out of, honestly, just being really relatable online,” Ms. Alzate said. “It was always an aspiration.”


In truth, influencers have been running the world for years. We just haven’t called them that. Instead, we called them “movie stars” or “talk-radio hosts” The ability to stay relevant and attract attention to your work has always been critical. And who, aside from perhaps President Trump, is better at getting attention than a YouTube star?


Sometimes, that meant appearing in photos and videos with more popular influencers in an attempt to increase their own following, a practice known in influencer circles as “clout chasing.” Other times, it meant going to panels with titles like “Curating Your Personal Brand” and “How to Go Viral and Build an Audience.” For VidCon’s featured creators, the super-famous ones with millions of followers, it can mean spending the day at a meet-and-greet with fans before going out to V.I.P. parties at night.


Not all of the young people I met at VidCon will spend their whole lives pursuing internet fame. Some of them will grow up, go off to college and wind up becoming doctors, lawyers or accountants. Some will fizzle out and be replaced by a younger generation of internet stars.


But the lessons they learned from performing on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok will stick with them, regardless of where they end up. Just as the 20th century groomed a generation of children steeped in the ethos of TV culture, the 21st century will produce a generation of business moguls, politicians and media figures who grew up chasing clout online and understand how to operate the levers of the attention economy.


“In the early days, it felt like this was a sub-niche of youth culture,” Beau Bryant, the general manager of talent at Fullscreen, a management agency for digital creators, told me at VidCon. He gestured around at a room filled with influencers sitting on velvet couches. Some were taking selfies and editing their Instagram stories. Others were holding business meetings about partnerships and sponsored content deals.

“以前,我觉得网红文化是年轻人文化中的小圈子” 人才总监博·布莱恩特对我说。他指了指满屋坐在丝绒沙发上的网红们。一些人在自拍,编辑他们的Ins故事。一些人在讨论合作和赞助交易之类的事情。

“Now, it just feels like this is what youth culture is,” Mr. Bryant said.


In other words, influencers are the future. Dismiss them at your .