YouTube, video sharing for the soul

It’s hard to imagine a time when watching videos on the Internet wasn’t a simple, unified process. I sure can’t, my youth let me skip the era of downloading the latest Pirate Bay 240p movie trailer using dial-up internet, feeling the joy and anticipation of the prize waiting for you in forty-five minutes – wait, no now it’s twenty, but now it’s an hour, well maybe just sleep and watch when you wake up. When I discovered the joys of watching videos, the whole process was much simpler: go to YouTube.com.

Oh, YouTube circa 2010, a wonderland of emerging content creators pioneering a field that seemed both impossible and tantalizing: people were being paid to make videos for a living. These were the proto-influencers, spending their days making comedy videos with their best friends, raking in the money. Some channels like Rocket Jump Productions showed Hollywood-level videos, while others became popular by parodying a popular song. It was the golden age of YouTube, the era of Ryan Higa, Shane Dawson, Ray William Johnson of =3, and most importantly for my life, Smosh.

The powerhouse duo of Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox rocked the world with their lip-sync Pokémon theme song and found success week after week with skits and parodies. These two Southern California teenagers suddenly discovered that not only did their voice matter, but people wanted to hear them. Whether it was Food Battle, Boxman, or one of their millions of parodies or “if BLANK was real” videos, audiences were thirsty for the content Smosh released every Friday, and I was there. with them. I still remember watching the launch of Smosh Games, bringing in a whole new team, and jumping into let’s play, the new thing on the video-sharing site. Fall 2012, Hurricane Sandy ravaged New Jersey, and there I was, on my phone, using my dad’s data hotspot to watch the latest “Boss Fight of the Week.”

Thanks to recommendations, I scoured the gaming side of YouTube, stumbling across Pewdiepie and TobyGames to find JonTron and PeanutButterGamer. These videos weren’t just a waste of my time, they were my vice. A video while I ate a snack before homework, a few episodes of the Completionist before bed, no matter if I knew the games they were talking about, I was intoxicated by what they were doing. After years of watching, I wasn’t content to stay away – I had to be a part of it somehow.

So I bought a recording device and a microphone and got my best friend to start a YouTube channel with me. The melancholic and ignorant blessing of youth. Late one day in August, we sat in my basement, Audacity running on my dilapidated laptop, and played “Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga” on the Wii U. It just happened. improve from there.

Rain, snow or shine, whenever I could get my friends together to record, all crammed into my little couch in my basement, we did it. Now don’t think I was popular: we maxed out at 80 subscribers and never grew from there. Frankly, I’m still surprised to know that people have seen four high school kids struggle to tell jokes and fail to play “New Super Mario Bros. Wii.” Some of them were friends, some were strangers, but they all gave us a chance. I gave it my all on this channel, from convincing a friend to edit the videos while I learned the ropes, or having another basically as our brand manager as I pitched new show ideas to them almost daily. I paid an artist for assets, learned to use (barely) Photoshop and tried, and therefore very badly, but inevitably failed, to stick to a schedule of two videos per week. There was nothing stopping me from being the next Pewdiepie, you know that except I wasn’t Swedish and YouTube’s algorithm doesn’t benefit small channels at all.

Ultimately, my gaming channel was me and three other people, all of whom are now some of my closest friends, spending four years goofing around and playing games together. We were never successful, we were absolutely the farthest from it, but that never stopped the process from being a blast. Every recording session was an excuse to spend hours with friends, either failing to cross World 9 of “NSMBW” or playing “The Evil Within” at 2 a.m., and looking back now, I could never ask for anything more. YouTube gave me the chance to try something new and crazy and find a passion for creating while doing it. It gave me skills that I still use today, it united my friends into a family and above all, it allowed me to live a dream. I may never have reached the heights of SkydoesMinecraft, but that didn’t matter to me. I am grateful for the experience I had.

When YouTube was at its best, it wasn’t a vehicle for Late Night Show clips or dozens of pointless ads. It was the Wild West, inviting people everywhere to throw their hats in the ring to be the next big thing. The only bad idea was the one you didn’t try. People have risen and fallen overnight, but everyone put their heart and soul into it and most importantly had fun doing it.

I miss the old YouTube. Sure, I go to the app every day and I always follow people who post great content, but that’s different. Now people rely on sponsorships and Patreon to be able to do what they love the most. In a way, it has become a real job to do what you love. I’m lucky to have found YouTube at that time, this magical and mythical place that encouraged everyone to lie about being 18 and try their luck. Do that let’s play. Do this makeup tutorial. Write this long, utterly pointless essay on why “National Treasure” is a classic and deserves a third movie. Everyone had the platform to do whatever they wanted, it really got you on YouTube.

Let’s all take a moment to breathe deeply and remember that awful, funny, heartfelt viral video or that favorite Smosh song (I have a thing for “Firetruck!”) and remember a lighter and strangest on the internet. Think if Dr. Seuss beat William Shakespeare in this epic rap battle. Pour one out mentally, or physically if you wish, for what was, then come back into life a little happier and a little more fantastic than before.

Mr. Deitz can be contacted at [email protected]

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged all of us, including The Michigan Daily, but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We are committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community in which we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.

For a weekly roundup of top Michigan Daily stories, sign up for our newsletter here.

Shirley K. Rosa