Getting Lost in the Depths of YouTube
I’m fascinated by trying to piece together the identities of people who only upload short, infrequent, or uninformative YouTube videos: The causal users. I worry that it is stalking, but they’ve put it out in public. Maybe they don’t realize what public means on the internet. For me, from the moment I discovered YouTube, I knew that I wanted to be, if not famous, at least producing content as good as everyone else. It was a “Hey, I could do that!” moment. I have forged my identity through YouTube, and left parts of my identity behind. So it’s weird to me when I find someone on YouTube and catch a glimpse of their humanity, but nothing more. YouTube is weirdly personal in a way that many other social media sites are not. Tumblr is like this. Back in the day, Myspace was a place like that. If you knew how to do any degree of coding, you could forge for yourself a persona that you presented to the world. I remember the psychologists and the mainstream media making a big fuss about this back in the day, but lately, they seem to be quieter about it. Maybe I’m not listening, or maybe this is the new status quo, and it isn’t news anymore, so the media can’t talk about it and the psychologists worry quietly to themselves and write their scholarly articles until a new study finds something sensational enough to run on the eleven o’clock news.
I’ve left behind packets of myself on the internet, like photos in an album, but more real, not less so for their digitality. These were no candid shots at birthdays and Christmases, but moments I made significant by the mere act of recording them. They say that every time we remember something, we are rewriting the memory, reshaping the moment in our minds and consolidating it so that it matches the person we are now to the person we were then, adding to the moment any storytelling skill we have picked up along the way, and more than likely, blending the memory into an amalgam of other memories, merging moments together, reforging our own history. This is why time passes more quickly as we age. The moments become less new, more routine, and literally become less memorable, and therefore are not remembered. I suspect that even if each day brought a new adventure, each hour a new challenge to overcome, our lives would still accelerate. The very act of overcoming would, itself, become routine. And I think that that would be no way to live, anyway, like Tantalus, always within reach of stability, never able to grasp it, or the Doctor, always running.
But with a camera on, the moment becomes crystallized, solid, and editing the clip does the job that our memories would do in any case, telling our brains that this was the way it was. In a way, editing is more honest than memory. You can always see a jump cut. Our minds tell us that memory is truth, no matter how much detritus it has added to what actually happened. I search for old Facebook posts sometimes, or watch my old YouTube videos, and sometimes I cannot recognize the person looking back through the camera. It is me, but it is a me I do not know. Occasionally, I don’t even remember making the video, something I recorded in fifteen minutes and edited in half an hour, then gave it to the world forever (or at least, with more permanence than 3/4 of an hour of effort deserves). I become my own audience at this point, trying as hard as a dedicated viewer to get inside the mind of this strange boy with the green eyes and the awkward earnestness, saying things I no longer agree with, speaking of people I no longer know. I have been many people in my life, but have always remained fundamentally Stephen. I don’t really like that name. I’ve never felt it fit me, and I think I’ve suspected for awhile that I might change it someday, but it’s what I’ve got, and it will do. The same is true of my online identity. Stevevader101 no longer fits me, but it’s better than starting over, and if it comes with baggage, then it does. I am not who I was, and I will not be who I am today. Perhaps the casual YouTube have it right, leaving tiny memories behind rather than extended discourses on every thought that crosses their mind long enough to post. But I enjoy my digital, public self, and the opportunity I have with every posting to reinvent it. I get to discover who I am along with everybody else.