We’ve all been there. Casually browsing through YouTube for the next trending video when the overwhelming bold title and aggressive thumbnail catches our eyes. More commonly known as a vlog, coined from combining the words “video” and “blog”, these videos are a your-life-but-better kind of videos. A clear reminder that while you’re on YouTube, someone else at university is working out, going to classes, applying for internships, and partying all within twenty-four hours. So we have to ask ourselves, why do we watch vlogs in the first place? What is their appeal?
While movies have a plotline, podcasts have a learning curve, and sports have a goal, vlogs, in comparison, just seem a bit… empty. There is no substance in a twelve-minute video of someone eating their sandwich and walking to classes. Yet here we are, halfway through a 19-year-old’s “morning routine” and inches away from subscribing.
One possible explanation for the rise in vlogging popularity is simply that it allows us to live vicariously through another’s seemingly picture-perfect life. The diverse YouTube personalities almost all exert a certain relatable edge to them. Whether you wish you could live their lives or seek virtual support, their platforms allow easy connection between the creator and the viewer. A 2014 Global Web Index study showed the influence of Youtube influencers among teenagers. It surveyed over 170 thousand internet users where they said that they look to vloggers for “entertainment and life advice than to find out about new products and brands.”
Following the daily affairs of their lives may seem like a strange concept, but it’s not anything new. Reality TV and celebrity gossip follow the same idea, involving ourselves in other people’s business as a source of entertainment. The only difference is that YouTube allows ordinary people to create a more relatable and genuine content. From trans-youth tracking their progress to new moms tackling parenting, there are a plethora of different communities wanting to share their experiences and equally huge audiences who want to watch them. People from all ages and backgrounds with all kinds of problems and questions can find someone out there who share the same experiences and made that part of their lives public on Youtube.
Unlike programs and magazines, vlogs are usually all made, funded, and shared by the person on the screen. Hank Green opens the 2014 Vidcon by acknowledging that Youtube “is the only social network that shares any revenue with creators.” This aspect of entrepreneurship conveys a sense of authenticity that young people look for in today’s media.
On the surface, vlogging rose to the top simply because it was more accessible. Perhaps, the careful and continuous documentation of everyday individuals reveal something deeper about the generation that popularized it. More than ever before, young people today are constantly paying attention to what is happening in the world and how little changes and resolutions are occurring. Political decisions and climate change debates are just the beginning of a long list of powerful voices muffling the opinions and perspectives of the youths. But when there is an entire generation of people who feel as though their identities are under attack, they turn to what they know best for help: social media and trendsetters to provide them with the power that is hard to find.
A solid example of this reclamation of control is shown through channels about mental health. Many young people find the way mental illness is discussed and treated in the educational system appalling and have decided to take it into their own hands. Imparting advice and sharing personal stories is a means for individuals to make an impact themselves when large-scale change feels impossible to instigate. In August this year, beauty and lifestyle vlogger Meredith Foster, 22, reveals her own eating disorder and body dysmorphia. Her platform allowed her to reach a large audience of individuals who may be experiencing similar struggles and to incite widespread impact in the mental health narrative.
Vlogging can also be seen as a response to the anxiety of self-identity and unemployment for students and college graduates. Many who are feeling lost in regards to their professional goals or anxious about their current job prospects have found a place on YouTube where they can explore their creative endeavors, search for their niche, build an online presence, and perhaps even make a living. Being able to tangibly act or create something during hard times like this can help young people grasp a sense of control over their own lives. Especially with self-documentation, constantly being aware of oneself and one’s progress is akin to slowing down, or at least managing, the fast pace our society functions at.
In a nutshell, what we choose to give our attention to is extremely important. Our generation values authenticity in our media outlets, the freedom to doubt and voice our opinions on those in charge, and the connectivity that instigates changes for the future. These characteristics are reflected in the rise of vlogs. We are all victims and perpetrators of the media, and vlogging is merely one of the mechanisms we have embraced, as a generation, to speak our truth.
Graphics by Stina Chang