The matriarch of a family in a remote village in Tamil Nadu does her daily chores, cooks traditional south Indian recipes in earthen cookware surrounded by her family members. She is someone I am familiar with these days, perhaps more than my nextdoor neighbour. Living in another corner of the country, I know the exterior and interior of her house, every face of her family. I’m also aware that her youngest son is about to get married soon.
All this knowledge I gained through the videos that are uploaded on her YouTube channel. Not only this channel, I am also glued to watching a couple’s travel videos, most of which are taken in foreign destinations and exotic cities. They engage in a series of pranks, often at the expense of others. I become one with them. I feel like I am traveling along with this funny backpacker family. I start getting to know each person in their circle, their families, friends, children and pets, their belongings, new purchases, quirky lifestyle and the big and small day-to-day details that I witness in their video series.
In today’s time, it is not easy to avoid being immersed in the digital ecosystem where we often find ourselves at the receiving end of the linear network of this food chain. Every day, hundreds of personalized digital feeds reach our mobile phones almost for free. Personal screen-based entertainment has undergone a dramatic evolution beyond the scope of television and movies; its magnetic pull brings all the scattered particles together seemingly fostering instant human relationships out of thin air.
For quite some time now, vlogging has been perhaps the catchiest part of the digital lexicon, which is an extension of personal video diaries, resembling largely homemade videos or movies created at low-budget and with minimal editing. But video-blogging means more than that; it allows the creator to chronicle his or her life capturing fleeting moments simply on phone-cameras. Vlogging has almost taken the shape of a new revolution in the virtual space. Vloggers film their daily activities mostly featuring their immediate family members, partners, or children.
The current vlog culture is about pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable too far, all in the pursuit of finding the perfect content. 4,000 watch hours in 12 months and a minimum of 1,000 subscribers are the requisite to get a YouTube pay cheque combined with internet popularity just by showing the world some inconsequential activities such as waking up in the morning, drinking coffee or playing with kids, and sometimes actions more private. And the widewild world is out there to watch.
We tend to think “The closer we get together, the more we like each other”. Through virtual space-sharing, viewers can familiarise diverse lifestyles beyond their individual scopes. People start following the content and emulate the new-found lives. But the end experience is often far from what is expected. With people getting more exposed, the exchange becomes more and more savage and impatient. Vloggers are subjected to the volatility of the like-dislike validation. Blind approval hoists them to some celebrity standings in a wink and ruthless dismissals are levied against them the very next moment.
Most viewers are wonderful. But some aren’t. There are always risks associated with giving away pieces of your privacy to such a heterogeneous mix of people. Through vlogs a great deal of sensitive information about families gets revealed such as names, addresses, contact information, details about work schedule and current or future locations. On a serious note, it cannot be ignored that the internet is forever. Even having removed the videos, the recorded content will remain somewhere out there, there will always be a copy that will never be erased and can be used by anyone having access to it. It’s almost disheartening to see so many people not understanding the magnitude of complication that can arise from the objectification of personal lives. And there intrude the indomitable predators of social media.
We everyday read news of the harrowing harassment of digital creators by viewers. But the demon of vlogging has two faces. Viewers too fall victim. People love to watch and follow family YouTube channels. Why a family vlog is so captivating is not difficult to understand; it presents a carefully crafted image of an ideally bonded family getting along in Pinteresque perfection. Fixated on these, viewers often end up finding their own families not-so-attractive and their children not-so-heartwarmingly cute. These sentiments subsequently give birth to endless dissatisfaction at their core family level.
No separation exists between personal family life and the life portrayed on the internet. Everything is up for grabs from play dates to romantic dates on these videos, to more private moments that you probably wouldn’t want strangers viewing. As it can be imagined, it becomes highly invasive and has the power to dehumanize relationships at many levels. Children are often the main source of income for a number of family vloggers. Babies and toddlers are easy picks; all you have to do is to dress them up and shoot them from favourable angles in colourful locations. Not only children but all the characters shown in the videos are made to behave in a particular manner for the channels to bring in more views.
The videos undoubtedly receive a lot of views and positive comments with regard to how tightly bonded the families are, or how far the creators can go in pulling pranks on each other. But what in turn is being ignored is their off-screen well-being, their consent or privacy and how they are branded in the public mind. There are popular family channels that feature young children doing funny things, and parents pulling practical jokes on them. To grow the channels and attract more views, the parents often take extreme steps and start uploading videos of them physically and mentally abusing their children.
YouTubers are seen not even shying from using wrong information to brand their children, dragging them into an unhealthy social chase for superficial ideals. It would be incredibly damaging in their growing up, basing their worth solely on their physical self because that is what their parents are most proud of. That is what they get the most ‘likes’ on. To keep things interesting, family vloggers often turn to making videos about exaggeration as opposed to the truth. The content becomes vapid and lacks substance as a result. In the rapidly evolving digital age, this problem is compounded as these internet personalities grow enormously out of proportion in unsafe or unbecoming ways much at the expense of their impressionable children and family. Time has come to stop and think of the probable sociopsychological impact the future has in store.
(The writer is a digital branding professional based in the Delhi NCR region)