The game of influences | WORLD
I watched my first YouTube video after a torturous wait on our dial-up connection: two minutes of buffering every two seconds of playback. It was “Charlie bit me”. Once downloaded I couldn’t delete it for a week because it was a hard earned treasure.
Now, like most Americans, I check YouTube almost every day for tips on changing a water filter or unlocking an ignition key. And about once a week I’m sucked into the video bait vortex. Born from the promising idea of three former PayPal employees, YouTube now accounts for about 15% of all internet traffic, with 500 hours of content uploaded every minute.
According to most accounts (the founding myth is a bit hazy), Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim wanted to create a dating site. Offering $ 100 each for videos of attractive women didn’t create content fast enough, so they opened up the platform to anyone with download capacity. This led to a mix of local talent like the “Star Wars Kid” (aka Ghyslain Raza), who in January 2006 uploaded a demonstration of his skills with a double lightsaber (aka, a bullet catcher from golf), which has gone down in history. as one of the first viral videos.
Google saw the possibilities and in November 2006 bought the platform for $ 1.65 billion. Since then, YouTube has made celebrities from Ukrainian preschoolers, Latin American amateur singers, and Texas A&M Dudes. “YouTuber” replaced “astronaut” as a popular ambition for elementary school children – at least that was the case in 2019 and probably more so after a year of pandemic. Who wouldn’t want to get rich by being themselves in front of a camera?
“No explanation can explain the strange chemistry of celebrity on YouTube,” observes the Thrillist site. In 2014, a teenage Target buyer secretly took a photo of the cute boy at the checkout. She posted it on Twitter, and by the time her shift was over, “Target’s Alex” had become an internet sensation, starting a brief career as a YouTube celebrity. Felix Kjellberg aka PewDiePie, a brash American Swede who built his fame on videos of himself playing video games, has remained in the top ranks of YouTubers since 2013.
Who knows what strange chemistry will ignite? Yesterday a fat teenager jumping with a makeshift lightsaber, today Vlad and Niki are brushing their teeth. And tomorrow?
YouTube, Instagram and TikTok are the preferred platforms for today’s “influencers” who market themselves as much as any product. College students who dream of becoming the next PewDiePie (110 million YouTube subscribers) are just as lucky to become the next LeBron James (98 million followers on Instagram). Most influencers have built their careers on the Internet thanks to their talents as a singer, actor or athlete. Being sensational isn’t as easy as it looks.
Yet the allure of becoming famous nobodies is right in front of our faces every day. Why can’t we be the ones to download parodies of pandemic songs like the Marsh Family or Rube Goldberg contraptions like Joseph’s Machines?
Because these things are difficult and take more time, energy and skill than most of us. But we all have influence.
One of the most unfortunate effects of being famous on YouTube, especially among young people, is robbing them of their sense of agency. It creates “followers” rather than actors, who dream of making their mark in the world of social media rather than deliberately moving around their own world. Our limits may be small, depending on age, ability and position, but we have more impact within those limits than we realize. Doing what your hand finds to do (Ecclesiastes 9:10) tracks your land survey and finds ways to improve it. What’s this domination means, and each has a personal share of domination. Ultimately, when the counts are added up and the eternal consequences weighed, it is the influence that will count.