Pop Culture

Creativity on the Internet

I have spent the last couple months obsessed with YouTubers.  In three days I plan to post a list of my favorite vloggers and Internet performers, but for now, I want to take a few steps back and look at creativity in general and how it is expressed online.

Ear Biscuits is a podcast by YouTubers Rhett and Link.  Together they interview interesting people on the Internet, going deep in discovering what makes these successful YouTubers tick.  The men and women who have sat at their Round Table of Dim Lighting include John and Hank Green, PewDiePie, Smosh, and the Holy Trifecta:  Grace Helbig, Mamrie Hart, and Hannah Hart.  These are men and women who have millions of subscribers to their channels.

During their interviews, Rhett and Link cover family pasts, careers and hobbies, and how people became the Internet sensations that they are today.  Most of the people they interview make enough money in creating videos that YouTube is their full-time job.  After listening to thirty or so interviews, I’ve put together a few common denominators that I think influence how creative people successfully become Internet famous.

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Most of the YouTube elite have some kind of family trauma in their past.  This is not entirely surprising, since creative people often feel the need to express themselves because their earliest selves were not able to do so adequately.  At the same time, the way people spoke of divorce and mental illness was from a place of resilience.  They took the pain they felt and turned it into something else–something funny or educational or meaningful.

There is also a trend of YouTubers being introverted or shy; many sheepishly talked about having few friends growing up.  The Internet is a perfect place for people who deeply crave attention and affirmation while also wanting safety and distance.  Content creators can express themselves and be vulnerable with the safety of a screen between them and their audience.  The quietest people sometimes just need a safe outlet for them to truly shine and become outgoing.

I should clarify, these trends stood out to me, but by no means has every YouTuber had a traumatic past or been introverted.  Many had loving childhoods and were extremely outgoing.  But it did seem that the YouTubers interviewed seemed disproportionately unique in their personalities and pasts.

Nearly all of those I heard interviewed began making videos within the first couple years of YouTube’s existence in 2006.  They created videos because they wanted to.  That they later developed an audience was unintentional.  Almost unanimously, these vloggers and performers had a genuine love for creating.  They made content because it was going to spill out of them whether or not they had a platform.  It was after one of their videos went viral and their subscribers drastically jumped that they had to reconsider what exactly they were doing.

And that is the final piece of the puzzle.  Although most of the men and women interviewed did not start creating videos in order to get famous, once they accumulated a following, they had the business acumen to create a brand and sell it.  They became more intentional about what they made, and they expanded their brand across media platforms.  Some branched out and created merchandise, or charity drives, or wrote books.  All of them continued to be passionately creative, but now they had a bit more focus.

Why does this matter?  Well, internalizing these YouTubers’ stories was what inspired me to combine my blogs.  I have been blogging for over twelve years, from Xanga to Blogger to WordPress.  I create because I have to, but in the last month or so I decided I wanted to be more intentional about it.  I don’t think I will ever have the influence of Rhett and Link or Grace Helbig, but I want to be the best blogger I can be.  Although we’re in different realms of the Internet, I’ve learned a lot from YouTubers, and I hope to continue to be inspired by their stories.

Coming up:  My list of favorite YouTubers!

How do you think people express their creativity on the Internet?  What are the necessary pieces to someone’s Internet success?  Comment and let me know what you think!

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