I have a pretty popular YouTube channel that I started when I was 16. Before I created the channel I had spent a grand total of about 10 minutes on YouTube. Technology pretty much confuses and bores me. While I was naive about certain aspects of putting myself out there as a "tuber," I was certainly prepared for the trolls, the bullies, the mean girls and the "fake and gay" comments (although this one still confuses and annoys me... but that is a topic for another blog) what I was NOT prepared for were all the viewers that are just plain... lonely.
My videos are pretty much my life. Besides the obvious ghost videos (the channel IS called "The Haunting of Sunshine Girl" after all!) I film videos in my home, with my pets and family and all the stuff that goes with that. There are vlogs I film in my room, videos showing my art or me chatting about what I am doing or what I like or how I feel. My viewers really feel like they are my friend. Which is awesome! Interacting with so many cool fans from all over the world is one of the best things about my job! But right away I noticed a pattern among the emails and messages I was getting from some of my younger fans. Certain phrases were popping up over and over again:
"Will you be my friend?"
"Want to chat?"
"Can we hang out?"
"You are my best friend in the whole world!"
"You are my only friend."
There are days I get 30 or more messages that contain some version of this sentiment. And I have to admit, I get sad sometimes. Just knowing so many kids and teens (and even some adults) are so desperate for a connection they turn to a YouTube personality to find it.
I get it -- viewers think they "know me." But they know one version of me -- the "Sunshine" version that is my character I use for YouTube and for my public life. My private life is different. As much as I share with the world, it isn't who I am. My real life friends that watch the show completely love it but they are quick to point out I am not always as hyper as I am in some of my videos. They also say I am far more sarcastic in real life but whatever...
I picture many of these lonely viewers sitting in front of their computers or staring at their phones hoping for someone to respond to them. And when I (or some other personality) responds positively, their day is made! But when it takes a few days to respond, or they never get any response at all, they are inconsolable. There are times when I get 50 or more messages in an hour period all from the same lonely viewer wanting me to chat with them. They tell me they have no one else. Or that people hate them. Or worse.
Of course, there are millions of viewers of YouTube that have active, full filled lives away from the internet. They enjoy watching the videos, commenting, tweeting, even debating about what they are watching. Just like I love to do about Pretty Little Liars! But they don't consider me their only friend.
As much as I can, I do try to share some basic advice when writers share their loneliness with me. Here is what I wrote to a shy young gal recently:
Believe it or not, I too am pretty introverted! Not shy really, but I find it hard to put myself out there in real life like I do in my reel life! I would always rather stay home and be alone than go out and be social! But I know it is part of being young. And part of being human! Thank goodness we aren't zombies, right?! Try some baby steps -- smile at people in the hall between classes, join a club, take a dance class. You don't have to ask a guy out or anything! Just start to put yourself out there a bit more! You can do it!
My hope is that as technology grows so will our acknowledgement that we have to help our youngest users to balance their online and offline relationships. So that everyone, young and old, will have a friend they have actually met.