Written by Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse
It’s 2005 and Youtube has just hit the internet. You’re opened up to a world of classic viral content like ‘Charlie bit my finger’ and Liam Kyle Sullivan’s ‘Shoes’ – the world will never be the same. Luckily for us, the platform and its content has vastly evolved since its inception, with simple skits and dimly lit makeup tutorials growing into high value, professionally produced content.
People have made entire careers, and bulked out bank accounts thanks to the content they can freely post. YouTube was created to allow everyday folks to post whatever their hearts desired and the ability to share it with the world. This inevitably opened the door to some more-than-strange content but we reigned in most of the weird and made way for videos embodying the very human desire for knowledge.
While YouTube is still a wonderful place in which to lose hours lost in content, it’s also a place to learn new things. Whether you want to know how to create a killer cut crease eyeshadow look or learn how to edit your face onto that of a Harry Styles fan, who by chance – after stalking paparazzi photos to figure out his possible movements – bumped into him on the street. YouTube has the educational video ready and waiting for you.
Developing skills through watching these videos is commonplace in the internet era. It’s simple to switch on a video and learn first hand, with no pressure, from someone on the internet. That’s the beauty of this internet trend, you’re choosing to educate yourself on something you want to know using the easiest medium possible – video. There’s no test, no qualification, and no pressure! You’re simply interested in gaining knowledge and YouTube offers that education for free at the drop of a hat.
Humans love knowledge. We are naturally curious and this drives the desire to learn. Curiosity occurs as a result of information gaps, we fill these gaps to improve our understanding of the world and the going-ons within it. We also like to come across to others as intelligent to feel good about ourselves. Basically, we want to know what’s going on even if it’s just to look clever in front of our mates.
As we grow older, leave education and become busy with other issues in our lives, the desire to learn weakens. Another possible inciting factor is the high-pressure educational environments we’ve been exposed to throughout the majority of our lives leading us to avoid traditional learning avenues.
A recent study showed that 59% of Gen-Zers prefer to learn by watching YouTube videos, 55% say YouTube has contributed to their personal development over the previous year. The platform opens up an avenue whereby we can access information in an easily understandable format. It can often feel impossible to keep up with everything happening in the world and on the internet – there’s simply too much stuff going on and not enough time to learn about it. For the majority of people, reading long articles, sometimes full of complicated words, isn’t the best way for them to retain information. Here’s where YouTube’s up-and-coming social commentary trend comes in.
Social commentary videos can be defined simply as video essays in which creators share opinions on various topics currently in the public eye. Content creators put out heavily researched, well-formatted information, often sharing both sides of an argument, to allow people to take in information and come to their own conclusions on the given topic.
Social and political commentary content creator, Jordan Theresa, has racked up hundreds of thousands of views on her videos. With a focus on ‘trendy topics’ and ‘internet memes’, she breaks down popular ideas to explain the often problematic and un-recognised issues surrounding them. One of her most popular videos, “I’m not like the other girls”, takes the overused meme and explains the misogynistic undertones of the joke. Not only are you caught up on the hot internet topic of the week, but you’ve learnt valuable information on internalised misogyny to now – hopefully – improve your character and educate those around you.
While the name ‘video essay’ may bring you back to Elle Woods sending in a VHS tape as her college application, the trend is rising quickly with thousands of creators partaking in the format and millions watching along eager to learn more.
These commentary channels can bring topics into the mainstream that you may have never been interested about. Modern Gurlz covers a vast variety of educational topics, “how the economy affects the height of high heels”, “chick flicks deserve your respect”, and even Q&A videos with icons like their “Q&A with Mary Jane Fort: costume designer for mean girls & bring it on”. While these may not be traditional topics we feel the need to educate ourselves on, they bring knowledge and allow us to expand our ideas of society and learn about them in an interesting and pressure-free environment.
Though YouTube has notoriously been criticised for its algorithm blatantly favouring white creators, black female creators such as For Harriet and Tee Noir have grown huge followings through their insightful social commentary. Vital information is shared through videos such as Tee Noi’s ‘It’s Not Coinsidence, It’s Colourism’ and ‘The Black Girl Fetish: Let’s Talk’, and For Harriet’s ‘What Happens To Black Women and Girls In A World Without Police?’ and ‘Why Do Black Women Performers Have To Sell Sex?’. Thanks to these women speaking out, topics that are shied away from in traditional media conversations are brought to an audience willing to learn.
These videos are an inevitable move away from the written essay and more traditional media. While we still enjoy reading articles and learning through the written word, improving accessibility to educational material by exploring mediums is a huge step forward in removing barriers that can prevent people from furthering their understanding of the world.
Traditional childhood education pressures people into learning. In adulthood, you can have an interest and relax in the fact that you can learn about it in your own way, at your own pace, and to the extent you want to feed your knowledge. You don’t have to be an expert on something to be interested in it, there is no test you must pass.