YouTube isn’t just for kids anymore. But was it ever?
The latest study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project revealed more Americans, including adults, are spending more time on video-sharing sites.
This prompted a spate of headlines: “Americans becoming YouTube addicts,” “Report: We are a YouTube nation,” and "U.S. adults love video-sharing sites.”
It’s as if the media just discovered YouTube: Everyone and their mother is writing about how everyone and their mother is sharing videos.
That’s hardly a surprise to the YouTube community’s avid participants, or YouTube stars like Freddie Wong who have drawn Hollywood-sized followings on the site.
But it is a surprise to the editors of mainstream media outlets who have, from all appearances dismissed YouTube as a bubbling reservoir of foolish teenage behavior or a place to post copyrighted TV shows and movie clips.
Media outlets might post the latest viral video, or decry some dangerous phenomenon highlighted on YouTube—but the one thing they almost never did was take YouTube at face value—as a community broadcasting their lives to each other.
When I asked Kansas State University professor Michael Wesch why YouTube is generally ignored by the media, he theorized in an email:
“It is similar to the way bloggers were treated in the early days of blogging. Some of it is that traditional media moguls and celebrities feel threatened, and some of it is just that YouTube stars are so various and surprising—people and ‘acts’ that we would never expect to be popular.”
In a recent article titled “The fine art of YouTube”—a rare mainstream look at the site, in this case in the Chicago Tribune—YouTuber Craig Benzine, known on the site as WheezyWaiter, tells author Steve Johnson:
"Adults don't sit down, go to YouTube for their entertainment. It's understandable — a lot of it isn't for them. But I think eventually, as these kids grow up, the videos will grow up. Hopefully."
While a good chunk of YouTube content isn’t meant for adults, because kids adopted the site early on and make content for their peers, the claim that YouTube isn’t mainstream seems unsupported by the facts.
YouTube is the third most popular site in the world. 48 hours of content are uploaded onto the site every single minute. If those don’t qualify as “mainstream”, what does?
As for the push for more contents for adults, there are a variety of cooking shows, religious and political discussion channels, and even tutorial channels (like Lifehacker) on YouTube already, created clearly for a more mature crowd.
Various universities have taken to posting videos, including lectures on YouTube (Stanford University, for instance, has more than 21 million views on its channel’s since its creation in 2006). There are also plenty of older, experienced filmmakers on YouTube, uploading content for general audiences.
And besides, those millions upon millions of views of surprised kittens and young girls talking about themselves can’t all come from teenagers.
The real revelation from the observation that America is YouTube Nation? It’s that we’re not as grown up as we like to think we are. And maybe that’s a good thing.