Talking with a Young Youtuber
Most of us can remember a time without social media, when sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube weren’t a thing. Perhaps, if you go far back enough, maybe even a time when the word “internet” didn’t even exist. Back then, if you wanted to share details about your daily life with someone halfway across the globe, your options were snail mail, an America Online CD, or god forbid, Myspace. But times have changed, and with them, a new generation of social media natives is rising up: people who see life without social media as foreign as the horse drawn carriage or the dial up modem. Youtube has been their Saturday morning cartoons. They have quite literally grown up right along with this technology, and have been shaped by it.
Now, they are beginning to use this very technology to make their own mark on the world. They’ve become the next generation of content creators, digital entrepreneurs, and social media activists.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Average Row, one of these social media natives: a young Canadian youtuber who had a green screen set up in his room before he could even legally babysit. I wanted to get to know his personal story and opinions on Youtube and social media in general in order to understand what this next generation thinks about this technology.
Austin: You recently just had a birthday, correct?
Row: Yes, yes, just recently.
Austin: The big one-two?
Row: Yes, the big one-two.
Austin: Yo you know what else just turned 12?
Austin: That’s right: February 14, 2005. Does that make you younger or older than YouTube?
Row: That makes me just slightly older.
Austin: Slightly older, so there was about a day or two that YouTube didn’t technically exist in your life?
Austin: When was it that you actually started watching YouTube on a regular basis?
Row: I think I was like six or seven years old. That’s when it really came into my life. It was mainly gaming that I watched. That’s the real big thing that I was watching.
Austin: Did you start watching it on your own accord or was it kind of a babysitting thing for the parents when things were getting hectic?
Row: No, I don’t even know how I found out about it, but I just sort of figured out my way around it. It just became a lot of fun. And yes, it was distracting, and yes, I would spend a lot of time on it. I guess it could’ve been used as a tool, but I, myself, actually started watching it.
Austin: How long was it before you started actually creating your own content?
Row: I had been watching YouTube for a long time before I started creating content. I started creating two years ago I guess. So late 2015. I had a real feel for how the website worked before I even started creating content…
Austin: …on a practical level, like how to use the website, upload videos and everything?
Austin: What inspired you to start putting yourself out there? That’s a big step for anyone, particularly for a ten-year-old. Not too many people do that.
Row: The thing that really got me motivated to start YouTube was watching other content creators really making it and doing this crazy stuff. I was like, “I wanted to do that.” Originally, I wanted to be a gamer, but I saw Casey Neistat. He is the big YouTuber that got me to start YouTube. I saw what he was doing, vlogging every day, and he would make such a story out of his everyday life. I wanted to do that. That’s exactly what I wanted to do. It really got me to where I am today because without seeing Casey Neistat doing what what he does, I wouldn’t have the motivation to still be creating content on YouTube.
Austin: Kind of following in his footsteps?
Austin: Musicians and artists tend to have a list of people that inspire them or that have shaped them. Would you say that you have a similar list of YouTubers, I’m assuming Casey Neistat included?
Row: Yes, Casey Neistat, definitely included. I definitely do. Starting out on YouTube, I started really getting into the bigger channels, like bigger vlogger channels and that community. I realized after I started YouTube, there’s a way smaller community of YouTubers around my level that I also enjoy watching. Constantly, I’m adding more people to the list because there’s a lot of different perspectives and different things that I see other content creators doing that I want to follow.
Austin: So it’s a dynamic process for you then: your YouTube channel? Your creative product continues to change?
Row: Yes, always. Always.
Austin: How would you say your YouTube journey has been so far?
Row: It’s been awesome. At the beginning, it was all about figuring out how to do everything, because there’s a lot more to YouTube than just watching the videos, that you don’t know about. Figuring out how to use the gear and editing, that’s how it really started out. After I started getting comfortable with that, I started expanding and using more ideas and doing stuff like that. It’s been going incredibly smooth ever since I started.
Austin: Do you feel like you have a certain routine or workflow now, or is each video unique and different?
Row: I sort of have a workflow, but it’s always evolving. There might be somethings that I do while filming that are different from what I used to do. It’s cool to go back and look at my old videos and see I used to do that stuff, and then incorporate it into my new stuff. Sometimes, it can work out well. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out at all.
Austin: Do you see any differences in your on-camera personality when you go back and look at those old videos?
Row: Yes, very much so.
Austin: You often film outdoors around people. How did you get over the anxiety of talking to yourself in front of a camera?
Row: You just have to have faith in yourself. No one is going to make fun of you or really care. They’re just going about their day. Eventually, for me, it got to the point where I just blocked it all out, especially when I was in London, England. There’s some parts there that are just so part. It was as if the people there just blended into the environment, and I got used to filming with high numbers of people around.
Austin: Are there any challenges or surprises that you’ve encountered of this journey that you took notice of?
Row: There have been some things that have happened. Sometimes, I’m filming a video and I can’t get a take. Or sometimes, things change or there’s something going on outside YouTube that’s conflicting with the time that I have to film. But, you just have to push through it and keep going. You can’t give up, you can’t try to restart. You just have to persevere.
Austin: What kind of growth have you seen in your channel specifically?
Row: Well, I definitely see that I’m more comfortable in front of the camera; my video quality has definitely gone up; and, there’s that whole community that I was talking about earlier, that I’m starting to really be a part of. You can see me in some of their videos. You can see them in some of my videos. It’s been a lot of growth in the right direction that I’m very happy with.
Austin: Speaking of that community around YouTube, I think it’s very unique that it’s not just people watching videos who are coming together and commenting, forming groups, but the creators themselves are as well; like how you have done in some of your videos. How have you approach this aspect of collaborating with others?
Row: Well, I’m open to collaborating with any YouTuber who really reaches out to me. I’ll try to jump on the opportunity, because it opens yourself up to a new audience. It’s very exciting to be able to work with another YouTuber to be able to make different content.
Austin: Has it been difficult to reach out or coordinate with other people?
Row: Sometimes it can be a bit tricky to get people to collaborate in like video Q&A. Or, getting video submissions. I met up with another YouTuber in Wales last year, last summer. I’ve never really had too much trouble with it. In the end, it works out; but sometimes, in the process of actually getting these video collaborations set up, it can be a bit difficult.
Austin: Let’s talk about the business side of things for a second. Many companies spend millions of dollars trying to create the next viral video. How have you handled some of these business aspects, like having your own equipment, branding yourself, marketing yourself, even setting up a website or using social media?
Row: It’s a lot more work. It can be difficult. It’s been harder to do than I thought, but I do have my dad. He helps me with a lot of the stuff that I do. It’s a whole process. There’s a lot of stuff that you have to be aware of at all times. It can be difficult, but I’ve learned that branding yourself and building yourself up, solo or with a couple of people, is possible. You can do it.
Austin: Do you ever get into the analytical side of YouTube: see how many people watched your video or for how long?
Row: Yeah, I’m trying to study that to see what works and what doesn’t work. I enjoy looking at them and studying the changes in them. I don’t know why, but I’m really big into that.
Austin: Numbers are always fun.
( part 2 )
Austin: Have you been able to see how your channel has actually grown over the past couple of years from those kinds of numbers?
Row: Yes, I have. With the analytics you see spikes and decreases, spikes and decreases. I’m always checking to make sure that it is going up and the differences are always becoming more drastic. I’m always checking that out. I was actually watching a video that basically shows how much you’ve grown in the past year. Someone in the comments section gave me a link to it. I looked at it, and it was really cool, because I saw from the beginning of 2016, I had 23 subscribers or something. It blew my mind, because at the end of it, I had something like 2000 subscribers. It was cool because I got to see how much I’ve grown over the year.
Austin: That’s a pretty big increase in just a relatively short amount of time. Do you use any other kind of social media?
Row: Yes. I’m on Twitter and Instagram. Also Reddit, because I have posted some stuff on there.
Austin: That’s how I found you.
Row: Yes. That’s the only real other social media platform that I use. My main focus is 100% on YouTube. That’s where I really pour all my energy into.
Austin: Is the other social media used in support of your YouTube channel, or do you keep those things separate?
Row: It is in support of my channel. Whenever a video goes up on my channel, I’ll post something on Twitter or Instagram saying, “This just went out, go check it out.”
Austin: Now, you’re probably one of the only 12-year-olds that I know who has a home studio in their bedroom.
Row: (laughs) yeah, yeah.
Austin: What spurred you to go the extra step and actually deal with a green screen, cameras, lights, the whole scene.
Row: I just wanted to really have the whole thing. It looked like a lot of fun. I was starting my gaming channel then, and I saw these gamers using green screens to blend into the game so you could only see them. That was interesting. I like the thought of having just a place where I can film, where lighting isn’t an issue, where it’s all sorted out and I know where everything is. It’s very useful to have that, and I’m glad I do. It was just seeing people who have that setup, and I wanted to do that.
Austin: Was it an intense process of actually getting everything set up in a way that would work for the videos?
Row: Sort of, because my room isn’t the biggest room in the world. We found a way to fit a green screen, a desk, and a whole studio right next to my bed, which is crazy. But we managed to find a way to fit everything in, and now it’s pretty much ready to go. My lighting: usually you have to turn on some switches and you’re ready.
Austin: You mentioned that your father has helped you in some of the videos, right? Is he the one behind the camera when you’re not holding it yourself?
Row: Yes, yes, he is.
Austin: How else has your family been involved with this?
Row: Well, my dad, he’s been the main one when I don’t have a tripod. He’s taught me how to edit. He’s been the real main person who’s helped me out with YouTube. The rest of my family is completely supportive of it. They’re always contributing ideas and all that stuff. They’re there for me.
Austin: Do you have a sense of their take on you doing YouTube? I can imagine from the parental perspective that there’s always that concern of having a child out there online. Has that been an issue?
Row: Slightly, it has been. But, if you know what you’re doing and you’re being careful with that stuff, it’s not as much of an issue. You can put yourself out there. Of course, I do have family that makes sure I’m not doing anything ridiculous. It’s just all part of it.
Austin: Being the same age as YouTube specifically, Twitter and Facebook are a little bit older than you, do you recall any point in your life where social media wasn’t present or that you weren’t being influenced by it?
Row: Oh, I have to go way back for that. (Laughs) I think maybe, maybe around the time between I was one and three. Around there, that’s when it wasn’t really present in my life. That’s when my mom and dad started getting into it, and then eventually, I started using it. But, before then, it was just cartoons and stuff.
Austin: So, it’s probably safe to say that it has been a big component of your upbringing.
Row: Yes, definitely.
Austin: Do you feel like that gives you a different experience with social media, or YouTube in particular, versus someone older who was in high school when it came out?
Row: Yeah, definitely. My dad, for example: he grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons. That was the big thing. But, for me, I don’t go downstairs and turn on the TV and start watching cartoons. I go on YouTube or Netflix, something like that, and I don’t even have to get out of bed. I just grab my phone and there it is.
Austin: How do you think social media has influenced your outlook on life as a 12-year-old?
Row: Well, I’ve definitely been able to see more of the world through social media. It’s given me inspiration to see other people going to other places. It’s helped me learn a lot of things. It has really impacted my life. Sometimes, there are some people who just watch the mindless part of YouTube. They’re not really getting out there, and that is sort of the negative aspect of it. But I watch social media to learn and to be inspired and motivated. I want to be the one who other people are watching. Not the one who’s watching other people.
( part 3 )
Austin: Be the creator or not the consumer?
Austin: Do you feel like your approach to creating videos is different than, say someone like CaseyNeistat, who YouTube wasn’t around for during his childhood? Do you see a difference in your overall approach because of growing up with YouTube?
Row: Yeah. Well, it’s different because I know what I like watching. I try to bring that aspect when I’m filming. I do have a different approach, because I think of myself watching this video, and if I’d still be watching and enjoying it. That’s how I base it after years of watching YouTube.
Austin: Is it difficult to maintain the creative motivation week after week, posting something new, something that will continue to attract your audience? Is that difficult?
Row: So far, it hasn’t been difficult at all. I’ve never had a day where I’ve woken up and been at the point where I’m like, “I give up, I’m not interested in still creating.” Every morning, when I wake up, I think “OK, what am I going to film next?” That’s what comes to my mind; that’s one of the things I’m thinking about throughout the day.
Austin: Before breakfast?
Row: Yes, before breakfast. I’m always thinking about what I’m going to do next. Because, you can’t stop thinking. If you stop thinking, you’re going to be behind when you need to upload. Consistent uploading is very important to me. It’s sort of something that I feel very near to me, almost like a challenge to myself. I need to upload every week, there’s no exceptions, I need to upload.
Austin: Is there a particular reason for that, or does it help you stay on track? What’s the rationale behind that?
Row: It does help me stay on track, because I feel like whenever I stop doing something that has been a routine for a long time, it messes it up. It’s very important for me, because of the way I am like that, I need to keep going and going and going and not give up. I know, in the future, great things can happen that can lead to many more things outside of YouTube if I just keep going and don’t give up.
Austin: Speaking of the future, where do you see your channel in a couple years?
Row: Well, at this point, I can’t really think of anything that crazy. Hopefully more subscribers and viewers. Possibly, it would be really cool to do some more paid work with larger companies. That would be cool, but outside of that, I can’t really imagine anything greater.
Austin: How did the idea of working with other businesses and getting paid outside of what YouTube pays come about?
Row: Well, my mom works in real estate, and the idea came up one day to have me make videos where I explain how to use a certain package for the real estate. That idea came up and I got excited, because I was like, “I’ve been doing YouTube for a while and I know how the process of filming something works.” I was like, “Bring it on.” So I did, and it was finalized. And I got paid for that, which was the coolest thing, because I’ve never really been paid outside of YouTube, ever. It was really awesome.
Austin: The money you make, does that go back into more equipment or does it become spending money?
Row: Definitely more equipment. (Laughs) I’m trying to expand, especially since I saved up for a Phantom 4 drone. In the past half a year, that’s all that my earnings have gone towards: the Phantom 4, that was a big thing.
Austin: Alright, one final controversial question for you, particularly for the people who discovered you through Elite Dangerous. Have you finally, finally, decided on a joystick to use while you are flying through the dangers of space?
Row: Yes, yes. Give me one moment. I’m really excited.
(He shows me a black joystick and throttle set with a massive grin on his face.)
Austin: Well that will certainly make take offs and landings a lot easier.
Row: Yes, oh my gosh, that was the main part where I was struggling with all that.
I realized through my interview with Row that a new generation is now making their mark through social media. Row, like many others, recognizes and embraces the influence that social media has had on him. In many ways, it’s the very thing that sets him apart from even his greatest influences.
In the next few years, we are going to continue to see how Generation Z begins to shape their communication and presence through social media. At the same time, we will also see how the technology begins to change from their use of it. The good, the bad, and the ugly will continue to be revealed.
Youth and technology has always been a tricky subject for parents and adults. Especially in the age of the Internet, kids online has produced quite a number of unfortunate stories where children have been threatened or harmed. This has become especially true as the technology has become more interactive and personal.
Still, technology is always a double edge sword. Where there is danger, there is also a great promise. When you add the unlimited creative potential that youth tends to offer, it’s difficult to say how this next generation is going to use and influence social media platforms like YouTube.
As a part of the next generation, Row is just one person starting to answer this question. He approaches YouTube like a young Jimi Hendrix did the guitar. The first wave of youth who have grown up with social media are now starting to communicate with the rest of the world.