I hear voices.
Shouting. Shrill. Pressured. I am in my kitchen, unable to make out words. Just a stream of urgent noise. Where is it coming from? The TV in the spare room? Surely not. TV conversations dip and rise. Even cartoon voices change in cadence and timbre. The noise coming from the spare room is barely human. This could be how I’d sound if I were to record myself when manic. As irritating as a whinging toddler, as grating as fingernails down a chalk board.
So, who is trapped in my spare room generating this awful sound?
I am repulsed by it yet drawn to find its origin. I step down into the spare room. The shriek invades my head. It is coming from the TV! I want to stick my fingers in my ears and run. And then I see my children hypnotised on the sofa, staring at the screen, seemingly oblivious to the irritating nature of the voice hurling itself around the room.
In this instance the source of the voice is a young man with bleached hair providing uninterrupted commentary on his experience of lying in a bath tub full of coca cola for 24 hours.
My children don’t watch many TV shows anymore. They watch YouTube. And I am sure they get way more screen time than our parenting experts would recommend. I enjoy the peace of having them both plugged into the anaesthetising properties of a screen, as much as the next parent.
These days their amount of screen time doesn’t bother me much. We balance it out with lots of other activities. And I’ve long ago moved on from taking parenting experts’ words as gospel. What does concern, irritate, and frustrate me is the quality of their viewing.
I make regular spot checks on the content they are consuming. And to my knowledge they haven’t gotten stuck on porn or other highly inappropriate material. They are not viewing anything poisonous, but most of it is fairy floss for the brain. While TV shows undergo some form of professional editing before we consume them, almost anyone with a phone and an internet connection can YouTube. Editing is optional.
Admittedly some YouTube channels have decent content. My children watch a teenage contortionist’s channel. Given they both dance and do acrobatics, I can understand why this interests them. I can even tolerate them watching hours of footage of heavily manicured hands making and handling slime, by excusing it as a form of meditation.
However, for every quality YouTuber there are a hundred whose diarising contributes nothing to the world. They just film themselves (or worse their children) doing mundane things with brain-frazzling, irritating commentary about the ordinary things they are doing. Or they attempt to inject interest into their bland lives by adding ‘challenges’ (cue lying in a bath tub full of soft drink).
These people come across not only as inane, but completely oblivious to what is going on in the world beyond their bubble. Prompts to subscribe to their channels are dropped pushily and disruptively into their content. They measure their success by the number of subscribers they can snatch.
If ever there was a demographic completely reliant on external validation, it is this wave of fresh, blank faces so eager to make their mark, without really having anything to say. They are not doing anything wrong. They are just labouring under the misapprehension that what they are putting out there is way more interesting and meaningful than it is.
Or maybe they aren’t? Maybe they’ve cracked the code: What keeps us riveted to our screens is not the cerebral and meaningful, but the banal.
At times, even I have found myself hypocritically sucked out of spot-checking mode to find I’m slumped slack-jawed in front of a screen that’s yelling promises of something interesting about to happen. But it never does. And when I slap myself out of my trance and walk away, I am horrified to find YouTube has just claimed half an hour of my life… almost without my consent.
Yes, I could attempt to shut off my children’s’ access to it. But I wouldn’t succeed. YouTube is a monster that grows new limbs as soon as you hack an existing one off. It is everywhere. At school, on a friend’s phone or computer. It is part of how we consume modern media.
So, I spot check and talk with my children about what they are watching to try and teach them to how to differentiate the fairy floss from better quality fare.
But if either of them ever tells me they want to be a YouTuber when they grow up I’d say:
‘Live a life worth YouTubing about first. Educate yourself about the real world. Then YouTube about things you are knowledgable and passionate about rather than just vomiting vlogs of you lying in a bath full of coca cola out into the world.’
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