I know for a fact that I was watching YouTube in 2008. Charlieissocoollike and Danisnotonfire are two of the YouTubers I still consider part of the “originals,” filming videos on second-grade webcams, and making the most arbitrary content… and they were just people I enjoyed watching; not celebrities or businessmen, but normal teenagers on the internet, doing something they thought was fun.
I honestly don’t think anyone knew that YouTube would quickly become such an immersive, complex, intricate, delicate, and intimate industry, with so much drama and so much competition. This, to me, says something pretty major about where we find ourselves, and points to some concerning things that younger kids are growing up with now. I’m also concerned because whenever I refer to the audience in this post, I’m referring to both myself and the people with whom I work, which means that this has a direct impact on my life as well.
But let me explain.
I’ve watched a few YouTubers upload videos where they talk about YouTube as their career and their livelihood. They all touch on unique points, obviously, but there is definitely a common thread, which basically addresses the issue that YouTube has become like a cliche school-friendship circle, or a celebrity-watch show.
Lucy Moon‘s videos have recently caught my interest, and I really like some of her thoughts on this new YouTube culture. Some words she’s thrown into the discussion that I found extremely important for the YouTube audiences to hear include “career,” “privacy,” and “entitlement.” I wanted to talk about these a little.
Career: 8 years ago, no-one thought YouTube was something one could turn into a viable job. Nowadays, some of the most successful 20-somethings come from YouTube, and they lead lives as both business people and celebrities. Whether self-managed or with a marketing team of 10 people, young creators on YouTube have built their own image on an entirely virtual platform. The issue, however, is that we as the audiences don’t realise that this is their day-job. The line between the videos they post and their businesses and enterprises (for the successful YouTubers, at least), and their social lives, become dangerously blurred, so much so that a YouTuber’s life hardly has any privacy left at all.
Privacy: Aside from their social media presence being under constant scrutiny, us fans even go as far as to visit their hometowns in the hopes of bumping into them. That successful YouTubers need to self-censor on a day-to-day basis, just not come under fire or be able to go to the shops in peace, is a bizarre thing to just accept as the norm, simply because of “well, what else can you do?” Is it really OK that a loss of privacy is an inevitable side-effect of being successful on YouTube?
Maybe it is something one needs to accept to a certain degree, that if you want to be a public figure you are going to have less privacy. That I can understand. However, what makes it really worrying is that YouTube has become incredibly commercial over the last few years, and the aim has turned from fun content creation, into beating your competition and gaining more views. To do this, YouTubers feel like they need to keep revealing more and more of themselves, to create suspense and intrigue, and feed what we – the audience – want, in order to keep us coming back for more. What this means, though, is that YouTube audiences – mostly in their early teens – have since developed a concerning sense of…
Entitlement: And here is where I shudder to think how YouTube affects an audience’s everyday life. If YouTube reflects so intensely on a creator’s life, surely it has a similar impact on us, their audiences? It’s already disconcerting, and I’m worried that it’ll only getting worse.
When Lucy mentioned entitlement, she was talking about how we’ve developed a really intimate relationship with YouTubers. We see their bedrooms, their morning faces, their cars, their struggles, their successes, their friends and family… it’s such a close look into a stranger’s life – one that we’ve never been able to see before – but it’s also only just a snapshot. We often expect too much, and thus feel as if an incomplete picture of someone we”follow” on YouTube is a failure on the creator’s part to give us what they “promised” us.
So, Lucy compares YouTube to celebrity dating: you gather certain things from certain sources, but never the full picture; you can only ever speculate about who is actually dating who, and what goes on when there aren’t any cameras. The speed and vastness of information has implanted a “need to know” centre in our brains – we almost feel offended if we can’t find the answer to something on the internet, as if it’s our right to know. This is exactly the sense of entitlement Lucy is trying to get at, the feeling that we are entitled to know everything that happens, and that feeling of offense if we don’t.
The drama of YouTube was inevitable with its rise in popularity. Without going into the details (of which not many really know anything about, to be fair), so many people now call themselves YouTubers, and with any money-making business there is bound to be a conflict of interest. Yet, we fail to see that there are going to be things we cannot know unless we work with YouTube on a corporate level, because otherwise it’s none of our business. Yes, you may see a tweet which hints at “inter-YouTuber” gossip, but just because you think you “know” the YouTubers you follow, or have a relationship with them, does not mean you are entitled to be privy to their entire lives. Audiences have become so invested in this platform that – although they don’t say it – they feel like they deserve to know everything.
Why is this dangerous, though? Young teens are growing up in a reality where-by their lives are online. This has its own problems, but YouTube adds an interesting and disturbing dynamic. If the current generation grows up feeling entitled to someone’s life, they will develop a general sense of entitlement in their social and professional lives as well. With entitlement, of course, comes a certain disconnect from compassion and empathy, and an entire generation lacking in those two things alone can only be bad news.
Lucy mentioned in one of her videos that she sometimes sees comments from a YouTuber’s audiences saying that they aren’t being open enough, or are hiding something. I can’t even begin to understand why people feel as if a YouTuber has the obligation to be 100% open about their personal lives – and I don’t mean not being 100% honest, because there is a huge difference between being open and being honest (another thing current YouTube audiences fail to recognise).
Anyway, that’s a little rant from my side. I thoroughly enjoy YouTube and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spent a lot of time on it, but I also feel incredibly sorry for creators. I admire that they can’t balance creating quality content with the YouTube admin, and still find the time to create sincere relationships with the people who watch their videos. I only wish audiences would be given the reality-check they need, and appreciate YouTubers as people, rather than products.
We aren’t entitled to everything, and we certainly aren’t entitled to another person’s privacy. So please, STFU and prove yourself a true fan by giving these guys a break, and allowing them the space to create content without having to hide from manic mobs of star-struck fans. It’s not cool.