Vlogging Me, Vlogging You
Performing, editing, and curating: the art and tribulations of vlogging
The other day, my housemate and I discovered a zucchini, grown in our background, that was the size of my housemate’s head. No exaggeration.
The thought occurred to me – if I were a lifestyle or comedic vlogger, this would be going straight up on the internet for my followers to see. It was the kind of everyday experience that held that out-of-ordinariness-yet-totally-universally-relatable vibe. But after a few moments of daydreaming, the very notion started to exhaust me. Imagine if that was what I decided to do – vlog about it – it wouldn’t be as simple as whipping out my phone and taking a shaky handheld shot of the zucchini and my reaction. I’d need proper equipment, the real deal: a camera, a tripod, lighting rings, a mic, the list goes on.
Professional vloggers these days don’t post impulsively. Hours of thought and preparation go into their posts: from the early stages of concept development, to the laborious editing process to pull together the rhythm of the video sharply, to the final posting and praying that its timeliness catches the attention of YouTube’s algorithm, and is swept out into viewer feeds at the optimal moment.
The impossible (yet on the surface, possible) success of a vlogger
The vlogging royalty of YouTube, it would seem, are able to showcase their perfect life, more diplomatically termed ‘aspirational content’, while being ‘relatable’ to their viewers: and relatable here covers a whole gamut of traits – endearingly awkward and silly; professional and go-getting; cynical yet salesy; promotional yet humble; appealing to wide audiences yet uniquely niche in their field.
What astounds me the most is how meticulously the vlogging content we click on and absorb has been made with our wants and needs in mind. Vloggers, or at least the ones who have turned their video content into a career, are slaves to the evolvement of social media and online audiences. In a 2018 Guardian article, some of the world’s biggest vlogging stars opened up about the ‘burn-out’ effect of vlogging: namely, the immense pressures of keeping up with the demand to consistently produce content, and to maintain an engaging digital presence for their fans.
Vlogging victory – taking over the internet
The future of digital media is not concretely known, but the extent of the vlogger’s impact on digital media can be inferred from the revolution occurring in real-time: vlogging has utterly dominated the digital video platform in recent years, for viewers and creators alike.
The most immediate trend of note? Viewership and output. Between 2017 and 2019, digital video viewership rose from 700 million to 2.6 billion worldwide. Many technological advancements, especially the rise of YouTube, social media and the smartphone, have propelled the popularity of the vlogging medium and the sheer quantity of videos being published: video creation is portable and free to upload, while the viewing experience has become increasingly immediate and accessible.
Such is the commonality and popularity of the vlogging medium that it has spawn a booming marketing industry, where advertisers and sponsors partner with popular vloggers to increase output to their target audiences.
Selling souls to the online realm – what are the long-term consequences of vlogging?
My biggest question, however, is not about the here and now of vlogging, but the future of its participants. My curiosity and concern about the vlogging community is twofold – what becomes of the vlogger once they leave their (often highly personal) digital footprint online, and what happens to their viewership who make their mark on the comments sections, like buttons, retweets, and spin-off commentaries?
Once published onto video platforms and social media channels, the information and identity of vloggers becomes imbedded in search engine algorithms. According to numerous academics and experts surveyed by the Pew Research Center, our online content may be contributing to a “dystopian” future of artificial intelligence (AI) control, and a system of governance where the powerful few at the helm of tech companies leverage our information to influence – and suppress – how we communicate and operate in society.
One of the most problematic sectors of the vlogging community is the generation of “sharenting” – a term coined in a 2017 article from the University of Amsterdam describing parents who post images of, or film, their children and regularly post them online. It’s one thing for an adult to tattoo their lives on the internet, but what about their children whose footprints are determined for them without being able to express their consent? These vlogging parents are forging their child’s identity online before said child has had sufficient opportunity to forge it themselves, or to even decide if they want one. There are blurred lines when it comes to ownership of content, according to the same 2017 article; specifically, whether the parent has the right to post the content. What alternative is available for the child, other than to “inherit” the digital footprint already created for them?
Who could forget the distressing story of the Stauffer family, who made their adoption process public via their lifestyle vlogging channel, and subsequently, their decision to “re-home” their baby after struggling to cope with the child’s special needs … I shudder to think about how baby Huxley will navigate the digital, and real, worlds after having such a traumatic experience so blatantly broadcasted.
As for vlogging viewers, what is at stake?
Aside from the physical and psychological ailments that are associated with excessive screen usage, vlogging viewers are susceptible to absorbing highly biased, false, defamatory, or dangerous information. The online community is synonymous with freedom of expression, and vlogging often takes shape as a forum of strong opinion and debate – while the most successful vloggers cultivate a distinctly loyal and trusting following, this relationship may become unhealthily distorted by the viewer’s misconstrued perception about their ‘closeness’ to the vlogger.
Here’s my two cents – I think we’re wasting too much time watching somebody else play out their life rather than living our own. Call me old-fashioned, but don’t get me wrong: I love a funny or impactful video as much as the next smartphone user. I just wonder what would happen if we didn’t watch as many vlogs … and stopped comparing our own perceived inadequacies to the curated content we consume.