By Dave Soto
In 2019, YouTube turns 14 years old: basically, it is now a high school freshman. Like a kid entering high school, YouTube has gone through multiple reinventions ranging from heartwarming and hilarious to absolutely painful to remember. It wasn’t always Pewdiepie and “Despacito.” While it’s difficult to conceive it now, YouTube used to be a ball pit of small content creators who just uploaded videos for the mere sake of it. As someone whose childhood and collection of awkward internet references were sustained by YouTube, I’m not ashamed to say that back in the day it used to be pretty great.
Let me be clear, I don’t think current YouTube is terrible. YouTube, as a business, has screwed over its audience with unfair copyright claims and by promoting problematic creators, but in the midst of it all, we’ve gotten some well-made content. In its earliest days, YouTube was a space for viral videos. “Chocolate Rain” and that sneezing panda video were just a grain of sand amongst the wide shore of ancient internet memes. Maybe you were at school, eating your Scooby Doo fruit snacks and drinking a Sunny D when one of your friends asks you about the Numa Numa guy or the Star Wars kid. It was inescapable, even for kids who didn’t have easy internet connections.
The market for funny videos then exploded when Fred hit the scene. The potential of sketch comedy led to the birth of College Humor and Shane Dawson, who continue to produce content to this very day. Smosh, Ray William Johnson, and Ryan Higa were some of my personal favorites. These were a bunch of immature dudes making videos with a high (for the time) production value. It was all so glossy and big, but also authentic in a strange way. It felt like these people could be people you knew in real life.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when that changed, but somewhere along the way, audiences must have gotten tired of seeing average people dominate the scene. Nowadays, the most viewed YouTubers are the ones who promote a lavish lifestyle. There’s still an attempt to try and relate to the viewers, but can you really feel any familiarity as you watch these YouTubers walk throughout their mansions and claim that they’re just like you?
Once again, I’m not trying to sound like an old-timer reminiscing on the old days. The beauty of modern YouTube lies within the fact that it’s so oversaturated with content that it’s almost impossible to not find something to like. Do you like podcasts, makeup tutorials, video essays, conspiracy theories, gaming streams? If you said yes to at least one of these categories, congratulations, there are at least a million videos on each.
Even as other video sharing platforms come and go, YouTube has stood the test of time by acting as a tool of the people. YouTube can be whatever you want it to be. That’s probably why, whether you like it or not, it will never die.
Cover Image Credit: Amazon