The idea of "mainstream" is dying, and will continue to do so. What we're seeing is a deep cultural fracture where communities, ideas, and people do not form the kind of stardom or centralized propagation of ideas that the previous decades were known by. As production gets cheaper, and getting an audience becomes easier, people will begin to form seamless self-sustained communities that support each other (think patreon).
If video killed the radio star, then the internet killed the star, and fractured it into infinite pieces.
Who do the kids of today look up to? Those are your next celebrities.
Many of these youtubers are actually somewhat surprised about the size of their following and the fact they can actually make a living with the profits from their channel.
I'm not sure if there's any other place besides youtube where they can monetize their channel in such a successful fashion. They don't really talk about how much one earns as a youtuber, and I suppose it varies wildly. But otherwise, they're not really tied to their channel, just tell the fans where you're heading and they follow.
It's hard to see how this is the future without experiencing it in some way personally.
Facebook Groups connected me with fans of a particular kind of fringe art about 4 years ago and made leaving Facebook really difficult. This might seem exceedingly anecdotal, and I get that, but you have to realize that, before Facebook, it would have been impossible for any of us to even know this interest existed; much less that there were others also into it. Nothing in the cultural canon quite sufficed, although some trends in music and literature had come close, none of them quite articulated the thing. Finding the thing was a necessary part of a certain stage of my life, and gave me a psychological grounding that something mainstream might never could have. I think admitting so actually devalues the spectacle in question, but I can't deny it. There was a value in the fact that this small group of people spoke this unique language. We became something like a tribe.
Attention economics are strange and only beginning to define our lives. Younger people will depend on fringe engagements to achieve a sense of self-identity that used to be a given. Life experience is going to take a new shape accordingly.
I think early evidence of this is in music scenes, which is haphazardly often the case with forms of sociocultural influence. No conventional wisdom can explain the proliferation of indie music and things like tape labels but these things are massive forces. They just genuinely don't care what you think. They have an audience and it's up to you to be a part.
Mastadon is strangely ahead of the curve and probably doing a poor job of meeting in the middle. I think it would benefit from shoving everyone into Mastadon.social at signup and letting them learn about instances from there. Finding a home is too difficult as it is. But, eventually, it does look like the future.
Is drawing attention to the "attention economy" taboo here?
Here's a tip: general explanations like 'is drawing attention to the "attention economy" taboo here' are basically never the answer. It's almost always something much more mundane. You could also know the answer to your question by using HN search to find any of countless threads that discuss these questions extensively. Even "attention economy", though that isn't one of the more common phrases, shows up quite a bit: https://hn.algolia.com/?query=%22attention%20economy%22&sort....