Today I decided to write about Youtube. Youtube has played a major role in my life since I was 14 years old, and there’s barely a day gone by where I’ve not logged into the site. It’s been my best friend, my secret crush, my procrastination, my survival guide, my good and my bad times. It’s been my constant for over 7 years – but recently things have been changing. I wanted to take a look back on Youtube from the most significant points in my life – when I first began watching at aged 14, and now, aged 21 – to see how my perspective of the site and it’s users has changed over the years.
Youtube in 2009
So let’s meet 14 year old Nikki – lives with her mum, has just gotten her first puppy Lily, is doing terribly at school, has a poster of Rory from Doctor Who on her bedroom wall, and is absolutely obsessed with Charlieissocoollike and Dan and Phil.
For her, Youtube is the greatest invention ever made. She doesn’t quite understand it yet, and keeps accidentally stumbling on some very dodgy stuff through her un-filtered ‘recommended vids’ channel, but she likes getting to watch nerdy, socially awkward boys like herself doing weird things with their friends in their bedrooms. She tunes in every day, she leaves comments on her favourite videos and she, and her best friend, will spend hours re-watching PINOF 2 on repeat until the early hours of the morning.
Youtube is the place she goes to when she’s home alone, and Lily is getting on her nerves. It’s the place she goes to to watch full episodes of The Inbetweeners and catch up on old episodes of Hollyoaks from 2006. She’s just beginning to understand her anxiety, and the reasons behind her hatred for sleepovers and birthday parties, and Youtube is her perfect escape from the divide between her recently divorced mum and dad. She longs to go to Summer In The City, and is planning to go to the Lincoln Gathering with Jack and Dean when she turns 15. Currently, Youtube events are little more than a circle of people on a university campus or abandoned field, and the only fee you have to pay is the train ticket to the venue. She desperately waits for Dan and Phil to announce their upcoming wedding, and is comforted, somewhat unhealthily, by the idea that Dan Howell can drop out of university and still have a successful career. This belief will lead her to later abandon her dreams of going to college, and keep her in the same school to complete her A levels, in the hopes that she might end up accidentally Youtube famous one day, and her school days won’t matter at all. Youtube is also a secret, a dorky obsession that she swears never to talk about with her ‘cooler’ friends. Charlie McDonnell and Alex Day have just moved into their own house, everyone knows that Alex and Carrie Hope Fletcher are secretly dating, and beauty gurus are that annoying part of the internet that 14 year old Nikki will never ever go near. She doesn’t wear make up, she wears cat whiskers, skinny jeans and hoodies…all the time. Youtube is her biggest dream, and although she never knows quite when she wants to start her own channel, she knows for certain that when she does, she’ll be huge.
Youtube in 2017
Now I’m 21 year old Nikki. I have a full time job, in a role that I love. I live with my boyfriend in our house in Nottingham, and we’re planning to move into a village and adopt a dog in the New Year. He has a car, and we’re going up to Scotland for his 27th birthday in February. I’m on medication for anxiety, I’ve written a blog for 5 years, but recently, with my full time role taking over my life, I’ve let it slide a lot. I miss my parents a lot, and my puppy Lily is…well to be honest, not much different. She still barks, wakes me up at 7am by jumping on my bed, and is honestly the cutest thing in existence. I’m an adult, I pay rent, I manage my money, I had a career as a freelancer, I’m experienced and mature. I can’t wait to host my own Christmas and buy my own sofa. I travel to far off places without having a panic attack, I have a completely different set of friends, the thought of getting married is not that alien to me, and I’ve just about learnt how to feel emotions correctly. I watch Youtube once a week if I’m lucky. Over the years, I’ve watched Youtube change and grow into something I couldn’t bare to love any more. My priorities changed, terrible and wonderful things happened in my life that I just couldn’t escape from, and I found myself more interested in catching up with the news than watching Zoella open her own over-priced advent calendar. Every Youtuber I adored at the age of 14 changed, just as I did. Charlie McDonnell grew existential, and realised the pointlessness of Youtube, so many of the male Youtubers I once loved were publicly shamed as sexual predators, Zoe and Alfie changed from lovable everyday people to self-indulgent millionaires, and Dan and Phil – who I honestly hoped would become more open and honest people, have still retained their frustrating image of secrecy and mistrust of their audiences.
Youtube is no longer safe. Less than half of extremist and far right videos have been censored, yet creators who swear or reference ‘crude’ content are de-monetised and punished. Small content makers are swept aside for clickbait titles from overpaid channels who pour little creativity into their videos, and create nothing beyond jump cuts of their own daily existence. Youtube events are outrageously expensive, and impersonal, to the point where creators don’t even have to turn up to make money from them (yes, Hello World, I am looking at you). I don’t have time to watch 30 minute long gaming videos, as those 30 minutes could be spent washing up, working, writing, cooking, spending time with people I never really get the chance to see or simply resting. Through my job, I’ve realised just how inefficient my daily practices are, and how much time I waste just doing nothing. I didn’t make time for my mum, or my dad, or my dog because I was glued to watching Sprinkle of Glitter spend time with her family instead. I’ve watched over 500 beauty tutorials, and never tried out a single look. I’ve been watching Dan and Phil for over 7 years now, and what have I gained? Nothing but a faint nostalgic fondness for the dorky teenage boys I used watch telling stories from Phil’s old flat in Manchester.
So what about my Youtube career? For so long, I thought that Youtube would be the only path for me. I thought that it was certain, it was definite and that everything else I did in the meantime was just filling up time before I picked up the camera and began. I dipped my toe into the water once or twice, edited half videos and published terrible footage of an under-confident, unrehearsed and unpopular girl doing a homeware haul from her student bedroom. But I never started. And now, I don’t want to. I used to believe that if I died having never been Youtube famous, I would have wasted my life. But letting go of that mentality is one of the best things I ever could have done. That dream wasn’t build out of a love for the platform – it was built out of the anxiety of starting a real life, committing to a real job, and doing something ordinary. Perhaps a combination of ageing, and finally treating my anxiety has led me to this conclusion, but either way I’m glad for it. Now that the pressure is off, the guilt is gone. The guilt that every Saturday I spend doing nothing could be spent starting my Youtube career. That I should be spending my money on expensive cameras, editing software and pricey laptops. Why? Why not just accept the life I have and find happiness and love within that?
For me, I’m a cynic. Youtube isn’t going to last forever, and I don’t want to jump aboard a sinking ship. Maybe if I’d started Youtube at 14, I might have stood a chance. But I didn’t, and look where I am now. Happy, confident, sure of myself and doing ok. I would rather be me than Zoella, and that’s something that has taken me a really long time to understand. Her life isn’t wrong, but it isn’t right for me. I like the freedom to catch a train, to leave the house, to go to the hairdressers, to risk creative failure without the eyes of 12 million people watching me. I like working 9 hour days for little money, because it’s better than being paid to sit in my house all day doing nothing.
Right now, I imagine there are young people all around the world feeling exactly how I did. Scared to get a real job, scared to live a grown up life, and wanting make money out of their favourite hobby and become Youtube famous like ThatcherJoe and Tanya Burr. And if that dream is real, and achievable for you, go for it. But if, like me, it’s born of fear, don’t waste your time worrying about it. Find something else to make you happy, because society is changing, and there are more ways than Youtube to make your mark on the world.