On YouTube and the same old ideas

On YouTube and the same old ideas

[Written by Vaiva Gikaitė]

[Image by Kate Zápražná]

YouTube is the most addictive way to waste time that has ever existed. The platform is designed with satisfying deep instinctual needs in mind—feelings that our brains evolved to help us survive are exploited to bump up view counts (which the creator also needs, along with likes and subscribers, as a proxy for love and acceptance). We don’t always realise our brains are getting a little high with every click, and it’s so easy to binge.

Shane Dawson is a great example of someone who really understands this. He knows exactly what humans crave and has dealt it out it in the form of his mini reality-drama docu-series on online celebrities nobody really cares about. Episodes range from 30 minutes, to a feature-length hour and 45 minutes, all with clickbait-y titles like “The Secrets of Jake Paul” (a 21 year-old YouTuber who gained initial notoriety on Vine), and thumbnails of Dawson gazing into the distance in disbelief. Now—after several months of no videos at all—he is back with a mini series about conspiracy theories, the first video already has over 26 million views.

“What? What’s he looking at?? What secrets?? What conspiracies???” demands your lizard brain, drowning out your rational brain’s thoughts of to-do lists and deadlines.

You click to satisfy curiosity, and stay for the feeling of superiority over the petty drama; and the “celebrity” gets a different kind of satisfaction in the form of an ego-boost. I refuse to watch, even to write about it, because I know they’re hours of my life that I won’t get back (plus, how else am I going to satisfy my arguably even greater thirst for superiority). It’s a sort of malicious genius, much like the engineered perfection of junk food. Tabloids and reality T.V. did it first, the Internet made it more efficient.

A lot of speculation exists surrounding the idea of the Internet replacing television. This article is the furthest thing from ground-breaking on the topic. As previously implied, it’s history repeating itself, and the same applies to the conversations around it. As far as holding the top spot in the media-format popularity contest, it probably already has. Television as it exists can’t compete with how well YouTube does what is essentially the same job.

Seriously though? There are better ways to relax or procrastinate than to view anything that Dawson produces. I totally understand the appeal of wanting to consume something mindless to decompress, but maybe pick something that isn’t completely funded by judgement and hate?

Try writing a really judgy article about it instead so that you can get the same feelings, but at least you can make the argument that you’re doing something intellectually stimulating. But let’s avoid this turning into a philosophical discussion on productivity and the best way to spend your limited time on Earth, and we’ll bring it back to YouTube and where it fits in to the media landscape.

In the same way that radio didn’t kill literature, television didn’t totally kill radio (in fact, it might even be more widely consumed than television now in the form of podcasts); YouTube won’t kill other forms of media. Media evolves as we learn what makes us tick—and we still crave storytelling as well as gossip. YouTube Red is trying its best to blend the democracy of YouTube with the business model and production-value of television. I want to say I doubt it’ll take off in the same way that YouTube did, but I’m sure people said the same about YouTube. As long as we crave it, media will keep evolving.

[Image Description: A vibrant blue background with the symbols for ‘play’ and ‘pause’ in purple.]

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