Why Youtube culture is like porn

by | July 21, 2014

When I watched little Tsung Tsung, I had the thought that we need to update Benjamin Franklin’s quote.

Sometime between 1732 and 1758 Franklin wrote in his popular publication, Poor Richard’s Almanack:

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write something worth reading or do things worth writing.”

Tsung Tsung is a little Chinese boy who took the Internet by storm when a video posted on YouTube displayed his jaw-dropping skills as a piano prodigy at the age of five.

I don’t know what astounded me more: Tsung Tsung’s skills, or my reaction.

I sat and watched the four-minute video in absolute awe — for about the first two minutes before nonchalantly clicking onto something else.

After clicking away I caught myself and pondered on “YouTube culture.”

How many back-breaking, finger-numbing hours has little Tsung Tsung spent acquiring his skill? How was it possible for me to be so fascinated by his performance, and then turn away from it so casually?

When we sit on our computers at home and watch the “People are Awesome” videos, do we appreciate the hours and years it took for those people to become awesome?

How much time do we spend watching other people do amazing things versus doing amazing things ourselves?

How can we simultaneously have an insatiable appetite for amazing and yet become so desensitized to it?

An Information Age update to Franklin’s quote could go as follows:

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either create a video of something worth watching or do something worth creating a video about.”

After watching my share of YouTube videos, I lean toward the latter; it’s harder, and more rewarding.

It comes down to this: Do you want to be a passive watcher of amazing videos, or do you want to be the active subject of amazing videos?

We are fascinated with, mesmerized by amazing people doing amazing things. Instinctively, we know it’s what we’re capable of. We know it’s what we were born for. We want it. We yearn for it. We ache for it.

Yet it’s so much easier to watch other people doing it. It’s a vicarious fix of amazing to compensate for our lack of discipline and dedication required to become amazing. Like drugs are a counterfeit shortcut to happiness, YouTube videos are a counterfeit shortcut to awesomeness.

We crave amazing so badly that we immerse ourselves in amazing YouTube videos, and that vicarious immersion makes us appreciate amazing less and less.


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It’s the same effect caused by pornography — it feeds our desire for amazing while making that desire insatiable.

Speaking of which, I believe G.K. Chesterton sheds some light on this paradox in his book Orthodoxy. Commenting on the foolish greed of casual promiscuity, he writes:

“Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman. To complain that I could only be married once was like complaining that I had only been born once. It was incommensurate with the terrible excitement of which one was talking. It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it. A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once.”

Likewise, when we sit and watch amazing YouTube videos — without striving to be amazing ourselves — we show not an exaggerated sensibility to amazing, but a curious insensibility to it.

The only way to honor the majesty of sex — and enjoy its fullest ecstasy — is through committed, wholehearted monogamy. It is to work through, struggle through, fight through every obstacle. It is to stay obsessively focused on the health of your relationship with your spouse. It is to sacrifice everything in that pursuit.

It is to stop watching other people doing it and do it ourselves at the right time, with the right person, in the right way — always and forever cherishing it for the incredibly glorious gift that it is.

Likewise, the only way to honor our awesome gifts is to spend less time gawking at those of others and obsessively focus on developing ours. It is to shut off the computer and dedicate ourselves to excellence, to strive for significance, to sacrifice everything for greatness.

It is to stop watching other people be amazing and be amazing ourselves — always and forever cherishing our incredibly glorious gifts, never envying others’ gifts


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Then, and only then, will we truly value amazing. Other people will passively watch our YouTube videos and casually click away from them.

But we will know. We will know the hours and years spent; the blood, sweat, and tears spilled; the sleepless nights and early mornings; the loneliness and the heartache.

And we will also know the incomparable joy, the indescribable ecstasy of reaching the pinnacle of achievement.

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