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Emma Chamberlain dropped out of school and changed the world of online video (nytimes.com)
44 points by bookofjoe 4 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 53 comments





This is a good piece, but I can't see it playing well around here. Modern youth culture is treated in an as facile and impenetrable manner by today's adults as our cultures were by our own parents. Yet.. as with any generation, there's a lot of good and bad to be seen, and this generation will surely give way to one that's even more intriguing.

Some time ago I always looked down upon such creators, but, with time - what is the difference between those influencer kids and Hollywood (especially in times of netflix cut-cost model)? Its still only about content provided, and content market is biggest ever today. Of course, I doubt that this (being employed as YT persona) is sustainable on a long run (there is myriad of reasons, including platform dependence), but girl already has a foothold in entertainment industry, far easier to start for her now than if sending screenplays to random producers. My point being, people watching it (or authors creating it) are not stupid, they are market driven, its almost a systemic problem that we can create value out of nothing and sustain this value doing nothing. World continues to spin.

I can't believe my eyes. Am I just too old? Some random persons shows herself in 5 different shirts or shows herself sitting all day on the balcony? Why is that interesting and so many people want to watch this?

My conjecture, for which I offer no proof: people get a lot of utility from friendship, especially if that friendship is with someone popular/fun/cool/beautiful. People are also not very good at distinguishing "I see this person on a screen every day and it's like we're hanging out" from "I hang out with this person every day".

Way back when this effect played out in the way people connected with the people on their favorite TV shows. If anything, it's compounded now, since you can watch these people do normal hangout stuff like "sitting all day on the balcony". That stuff used to be reserved for friends and family, or at least acquaintances. So we still attach a special feeling to taking part in it. Again, this is most true when we see the person as cool.

Might even be further compounded by the rise of actual friendships (i.e., two-way streets) that mostly play out online -- if many of your interactions with actual friends occur over Instagram, it's easier to see "I see person x's Instagram posts" as a kind of friendship.

These are just guesses. I follow some people on YouTube, but they're all very skilled practitioners of at least one of my hobbies, and I'm not into their sporadic "my life outside my hobby/vlog" videos.

Also, on reflection, I probably stole most of these ideas from an old essay David Foster Wallace wrote about television, "E Unibus Pluram" [1].

[1] https://jsomers.net/DFW_TV.pdf


I have noticed this effect in myself while watching streamers on Twitch. You start to feel like you're sitting on a couch with your buddy playing a game.

perhaps this is why I've never been able to get into streamers. About the only online content of that type I've been able to consume is HCBailey's lets play series, and that's because he does old school FF, et al, and I enjoy the nostalgia. It's more about the game than the person, although I think he does a great job.

But otherwise, the entire culture of watching other people online is weird to me.


I've heard this described as "parasocial interaction".

I don't watch it, don't find it appealing, but I don't watch "reality shows" either, and consider them pure rubbish. I think videos like hers are very close to reality shows. Many people like those, right? They just simply entertain a range of viewers.

If you have children, or younger siblings, you will know they consume those like candies. Is it generational? I don't think so, unless "Internet, Youtube, Social Media... etc." is counted as a generation--which might as well be.


There are many reasons why independently created vlog-style content could be more appealing to many people. It's more relatable, not predictable, more current, there is more variety, fewer restrictions, much less propaganda (no pushing diversity, minorities, no pro-government, pro-police, pro-military propaganda, etc.).

Why so many people still want to watch hollywood movies is what I would ask instead.


Have fun at the retirement home grandpa!

Please don't do this here.

Get off my lawn!

>Chamberlain edits each video she makes for between 20 and 30 hours, often at stretches of 10 or 15 hours at a time. Like other professional social media users, the work has taken a physical toll on her. (She releases roughly one video a week.) She used to edit at a desktop, but she developed back pain. Now she works from her bed. She keeps blue mood lighting on, but her vision has deteriorated.

She works harder than many "adults" I know. Considering the USA's collective obsession with "hard work" and long hours she should be lauded, but I mostly see comments denigrating her, probably because there's no stock price at stake. We only value hard work when somebody else benefits from it.


I don't quite understand how her "physical toll" is any greater than other computer workers, other than she now does her work in bed. It's certainly a lighter load than any labor or trade job, so that part of the article falls flat to me.

She should be lauded for producing something people want to see, with no external harm, that makes her a living. That's difficult, unstable, and stressful. It could disappear overnight from a gaffe or any number of other causes both within and outside her control.


I think she needs some kind of counselling or mentoring because working long stretches like that is not going to lead to long term gain as she's already noticed with her health. The attitude and work ethic are commendable but it's not what I want as a role model for my own kids.

For her subscription numbers, I guess millions of dollars per year is very realistic, for that kind of money, many adults would be willing to work long hours too.

And in the fickle world of internet fame, you would want to make the most of it while you are at it.

But for six figures or less, not much so.


I don't feel like judging YouTubers either way right now, but our obsession with "hard work" has always been really unhealthy. Not everything that's hard is worth doing.

Did everyone forget about JenniCam? The subtitle gore of this NYT post is myopic. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jennifer_Ringley

This isn't real news. The whole "what if YouTube is a real job?!?!?!?" Bullshit was hyped up 10 years ago, at the earliest, if I recall correctly, when pewdiepie was starting to go mainstream and vloggers were getting traction. It's always difficult work. That's not the purpose of the article though - it's just trying to shine another light on an old topic to revive it for the public and make some easy clicks.

As someone currently doing backbreaking work, please fork off with this bullshirt.

Yeah, I get it, it's mentally tiring and a lot more effort than we see in the video. Cry me a river. Be glad your everything from the waist down doesn't feel like it's falling apart without taking an iburprofen because you didn't just have to clock in a half forking marathon in some cheap sneakers from walmart.


You can say fuck on HN.

OMG! The internet is so changed I can't even comprehend! My JS won't run, even backend Python/PHP won't run, And my mouse turned into a moose. Much change.

I made it about 30 seconds hoping for something funny, but hey, if it works for her, more power to her.


The title was misleading for me. I expected a tech project in the domain of online video. Can we change it to include "YouTube" or add "influencer"?


[Warning cynical and bitter post below]

Ah, Youtubers. I am not sure what's more tragic about them; making hyperbolic or fake events to attract viewers.

Or allowing viewers a "no-bars" tour around their personal lives and sometimes their own heads.

Or is the real tragedy the viewers, who binge vicariously into these empty vessels. Relishing in the rise, peak and eventual fall from fame of these online stars, with all the emotions and vulnerability put on for display.

Then for this audience to move onto the next piece of entertainment?

The worst part is the propagation that Youtubing is a legitimite vocation / lifestyle. It's almost as bad as these other fake lifestyles:

* Travel Bloggers, desecrating and ignoring local customs for the entertainment of readers.

* Forex / Bitcoin millionaires (Buy my eBook).

* The mum that makes £50,000 a week from doing online surveys.

* ASMR escorts

* Instagram influencers, prostituting themselves literally or metaphorically to businesses / media / rich saudi princes

To read more like this, please check out my blog, so I can live out my dream of being a digital nomad and pose with my expensive Macbook in a third world country...

tomaytotomato.com


How much of this is just disintermediated "reality" television, though? It used to be the case that only very few people could become celebrities, and this was mediated by the existing power brokers. Now people can become a TV star directly without having to go through the TV. Long hours are still required, but this is fundamentally a competition: you'll be beaten by someone putting in more hours. The real curse of full commoditisation of time and life.

The difficult bit is trying to untangle whether the audience's participation in it is just entertainment, or takes on unhealthy aspects of boundary crossing, addiction, or delusions of closeness.

> Forex / Bitcoin millionaires (Buy my eBook).

Popular financial frauds have a centuries-long history.


Although I believe that the amount of effort put in will also provide an amount returned, this isnt always the case, and moreso in this type of "showbiz" career. It also doesnt help that by lowering the bar in this field, you yield better results (see early pewdiepie, belle delphine) it provides better results with a fraction of the effort.

There's definitely a vicious cycle of outrage and controversy inflation that pushes people to become fascists simply because that's what gets clicks. They then try to say they didn't mean it, but that has the problem that they sold their entire channel on the basis of "authenticity".

Similarly the demand for sex work appears insatiable, especially if it can successfully pretend not to be. Someone mentioned Jennicam, which may have been broadcasting before Belle Delphine was even born.

Only external braking factors can reduce this. The thing that stops youtubers from going all the way up to snuff films for the clickbait is the moderation and risk of getting banned. Something to think about for those that think it should just be an entirely neutral platform.

Youtube, by paying these people, has been the invisible hand that's called them into this role.


> The difficult bit is trying to untangle whether the audience's participation in it is just entertainment, or takes on unhealthy aspects of boundary crossing, addiction, or delusions of closeness.

Why is that even a concern? Would you be just as concerned if it was about veritasium or eevblog channels?


> Would you be just as concerned if it was about veritasium or eevblog channels?

I don't know, do fans of those exhibit fan behaviours that might be considered boundary crossing, addiction, or delusions?


As a frequent traveler who very much shares your cynicism on the aforementioned, I've used that negativity to motivate me to work on a blog specifically against disrespectful, mindless, and destructive behavior while traveling internationally. Not that it offsets the damage done by these "influencers", especially since their attention dwarfs content like mine, but hopefully more of us can utilize these negative feelings to contribute more meaningful and responsible content to the digital landscape. wanderandponder.com

Is the tragedy for viewers any worse than binge watching tv which was more common before youtube?

That is an awfully broad generalization. There appear to be plenty who generate some form of income from the service while drawing a clear line between their professional and personal lives, without being profoundly hyperbolic or outright fake, or many of the other stereotypes propagated by the media. The media doesn't talk about them very much for pretty much the same reason that the media doesn't talk about office works very much: the mainstream media is based upon sensationalism, much like the YouTube superstars are. Those who operate YouTube channels as a small business or a supplementary source of income are not going to get the attention because they are simply trying to do their job.

Regardless of your personal opinions on YouTube, It's mostly all the kids are watching these days. The realness and closeness to the content creators is something Hollywood and mainstream cable can't provide. MTV Real World and Survivor seemed to kick start this average Joe celebrity type world we now live in.

Is it any worse than Tom Cruise and the like giving us political advice about who to vote for? I'll take YouTubers over Hollywood celebs any day.


and the worst part is that after the 5th literally in 2 sentences I closed the video.

Maybe I'm just that old guy screaming at the kids to get the hell off my lawn, but I found the communication style to be obnoxious.


I like to watch mindless things and giggle after a full day of working and frying my brain. Sometimes it isn't any deeper than that. I don't understand these misanthropic rants that come out of the HN crowd any time someone even half mentions YouTube.

I find this comment snobbish, arrogant and crass. I don't believe it belongs on HN.

In insulting other people lives and how they enjoy them, all you have shown is that you're an intolerant, elitist asshole.


The common factor in most of the jobs that post was about is that bullshit (lying) is so effective in their execution that the bullshitters tend to squeeze out the non-bullshitters very effectively, with some exceptions (...or are they exceptions? Who knows.) The lower your tolerance for "acceptable" self-interested lying the more likely you are to be grossed out by the whole online media/marketing career scene.

or ... you know ... they have an opinion.

The wording of the title feels like an ad for youtube or the gig economy, but besides these winners there are far more losers.

Honestly I don't think there is much to be seen. Young people are playing the hand they have been dealt, it just isn't a very good one.

"Joel got the idea for the song when he had just turned 40. He was in a recording studio and met a friend of Sean Lennon who had just turned 21 who said 'It's a terrible time to be 21!' Joel replied to him, 'Yeah, I remember when I was 21 – I thought it was an awful time and we had Vietnam, and y'know, drug problems, and civil rights problems and everything seemed to be awful.' The friend replied, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, but it's different for you. You were a kid in the fifties and everybody knows that nothing happened in the fifties.' Joel retorted, 'Wait a minute, didn't you hear of the Korean War or the Suez Canal Crisis?' Joel later said those headlines formed the basic framework for the song."

I have heard the argument before, that things were always bad, but that isn't the point. The difference isn't that things aren't better, but that they aren't getting better. The reason we remember hippies, punk rockers and skaters is because they ended up having an outsized impact in expanding cultural centres. You can trace back entire movements or industries to certain locations or events. But is anyone going to talk about the subprime mortgage crisis, some algorithm change or even "occupy" in the future? Is anyone going to say "I was there when people were in debt, couldn't afford to live in cities and were playing video games and watching YouTube"? I think it is doubtful. People can't even remember current wars. The cast of "Girls" isn't the cast of "Kids". But I guess I can't entire rule out iJustine becoming president one day.

Which song?

Sounds like Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire."

That is a very victim mentality statement to make.

That doesn't make it any less true.

No, it makes it an opinion, with no argument supporting it provided by OP...

It's not a self-evident truth, at least to me.


Youth cultures that become catalysts are expressive. They are pushing what you can do. Whether that is making music, doing drugs, skateboarding or being gay. Because when you actively escape the norm you receive ownership of some new part of society that wasn't there before.

However, most modern youth cultures are defined largely by their lack of culture. They are instead about passively escaping society. The top comment on the first video in the article is literally literally "I have no friends and I’m sitting alone in my room laughing hysterically at this video". There is increasingly nothing to understand. It is an entire generation being marginalized. But you can of course argue that many people always were.

Addition: Another example would be the relative failure of things that would be expressive like the "maker movement", platforms like SoundCloud and E-sports.


> However, most modern youth cultures are defined largely by their lack of culture.

That doesn't seem right, even the "Smash Bros" community has a culture, hell people talk about the YouTube community all the time.

Also, soundcloud gave rise to Soundcloud rapper movement and more broadly has been important in the hip-hop community, I don't think it's a good example


How to define a culture is of course a much longer discussion, so I have to defer to my earlier comments. Is the "Smash Bros" or YouTube communities significant enough to be remembered as something special, or is it popular because it is popular?

My point with SoundCloud is that it is a mostly a commercial failure. If youth cultures today was more expressive it would be much more successful. So would make magazine or e-sport venues.

I don't deny that there are cultures on for example YouTube, more the idea that there is something more going on. That we don't understand "beauty blogging", but in the future it will lead to something exciting. No, (or at least mostly not) they will go on to become marketing managers at some company and/or continue to sell Chinese cosmetics. Cosmetics happened last century with people like Estée Lauder.

Asia is a bit of a different story, which I don't know enough about to really comment on. But in the West it is very much that young people have shitty deal and are making the best of it by doing things like playing video games and watching people they can identify with and are popular.

If you think about it a lot of the content is about fitting in, rather than standing out. Which would be the more traditional youth culture.




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