I’ve been aiming a GoPro at my face and yammering into the internet for just short of a decade now (9-ish years roughly). Ever since I started using my laptop camera to grab snapshots of my work in progress, documentation of the here and now has been a major part of my practice as an artist. Sharing my life experiences in order to establish a sense of relation with others is important to me, so I continue to do so with excitement.
The process and the product have both changed drastically over time, mapping closely to my thoughts and feelings about making videos. Spoiler: it has grown from enthusiasm to exhaustion. As I’ve compared notes with other self driven makers and documenters, I know now that I’m not alone on this arc.
Half of my work involves the collection and editing of photos and video captured with the intent of sharing the creative process with other humans. While this is good in some ways, it has had some unfortunate side effects on who I am as a person. Some of which, I’m trying to work through right now so that I can decide what the future of shouting into the void will look like for me.
Real and Honest
The way I once went about documenting my work is nothing like it is now. In the beginning, my desire was to capture a wee bit of the ephemeral moments I passed through while making a thing. This would result in honest videos that involved literally no planning, little editing, and not a thought whatsoever regarding how I should followup with the next video I’d produce. Those things simply did not matter to me back then.
Over the years, the universe cosmically suggested that I could… or aught to be making money from my efforts as a content creator. After all, if it was something that I naturally did via passion, it couldn’t hurt to also receive some monetary incentive as well. As I grew older, I also grew tired of being broke all the time. The thought of making money went from being a nicety to a necessity, so I slowly started paying attention to the success of others, hoping I might be capable of achieving the same reward.
Even if it was just an aside, setting my YouTube channel for monetization caused me to be self aware in a way I hadn’t been until that point. I started doing what they tell you not to: comparing myself to everyone else. Inevitably I became influenced by what I presumed was working for those people. I defined parameters for my content, like what was good, bad, or ah-yes! attention-worthy.
Around the time I had my first run-in with a major brand sponsorship, as well as a gig with a big TV network as a cast member on Mythbusters, I had a distinct sense of what worked, what didn’t, and most importantly, what worked best when it came to producing content that others may consume. And really, this was the key word that stole my soul: consume.
If the capitalist world is just a bunch of consumers in a candy shop, then it behooves me to make sure I create something sweet and addictive. After all, my payout is on the line. If I want to keep making that money, my content better be appealing to as many people as possible.
What will get me the most “likes”? If popularity translates into ad revenue, and ad revenue becomes a potential stream of income… I must start thinking about what will get me the most attention. This is also called “selling out” lol.
So came the era of conforming to the “YT”. I believe the meaning of “YT” differs slightly depending on who you ask, but I’ve come to think of it as a term which describes a video *style* collectively developed through the natural selection of popularity, as driven by monetization.
In general, the nuggets of content released throughout YouTube slowly began to mimic more closely that of highly produced television shows. The format of delivery is tried and true. People prefer order and the comfort of the familiar, so it makes sense that this happened organically over time.
Just like a particularly dumb moth, I started curbing my production routine to output my own episodic morsels. I obsessed over creating a quasi-“brand” out of myself. Everything I released had to embody that brand in its subtext, and the videos most definitely had to feel cohesive in relation to one another. I created my own prison.
Within a year, the content I was putting out morphed into something utterly unrecognizable from what it started out as. My videos were polished. Though I am very proud of the “product” I created during that time… something else happened as a direct result of how much I had strayed from myself.
Burn Out. I was now putting ten times the effort into something that used to function in my professional life as an aside. It began to feel as though the emphasis of my work as a creator was now on the representation, or illusion, created in my videos rather than what they were meant to document. I started asking myself, what was the point? What was I doing? Making robots or making videos about making robots.
This is where I encountered a holding pattern of self loathing and frustration. In spite of all of this adulteration to my way of doing things, I wasn’t in truth any more successful on the platform. I had forgotten something.
If we’re talking consumption: I, as a person (and my work), are not universally palatable. Even if I curb my practice to fit a more appetizing format, who I am and what I do is not necessarily ingestible for most (and this isn’t a bad thing). So, what was I thinking by trying to apply the mask of many to a face that could never even fit inside of it to begin with?
Now looking upon this strange homunculus of a practice that I had distorted into, I had no love for it nor energy. I went from waking up in the morning excited to share with others the progress I was making on my work (my work being the thing that used to be most important to me), to a burnt out husk who hates seeing their face and hearing their voice on camera.
But the Damage was done. I had let this transformation go on for years. By the time I saw what had happened, I was past the point of no return, laying face down on a path I didn’t want to be on. And the lack of motivation wasn’t even the most dire consequence of going astray.
I had conditioned my mind to “spin” every act I intended to do in a day. If I woke up in the morning with a list of things I’d like to accomplish, I would think to myself, how can I portray these things so that others might be interested in them? How can I make them fun? How can I frame this act so that it has sizzle? From what angle should I talk about it so that others will wish to engage?
In short, I no longer did anything anymore simply because I enjoyed it. Just as the practice of creating documentation became unappealing, the acts I was documenting also became unpalatable to me, because they were no longer completely genuine.
I had no idea why I was doing any of it anymore. I had sucked both sides of my passion dry of any personal meaning or authenticity.
And it gets worse yet. Sure, no longer wanting to do something that you once loved is awful, but I hadn’t only burnt out. I completely objectified myself in the process. My friends call this “disassociation“, which hangs out in the same camp as depression.
I slowly became obsessed with the capturing of “the meta”. Something that I will describe as… acting as your own voyeur.
The byproduct of watching myself from the outside, collecting footage of myself like a specimen, was that I conceivably split in two: the person telling the story, and the person the story was about. Each state of mind was distinctly different and in a constant state of frustration with the other…. because I no longer liked myself.
At some point last Spring, I woke up in the morning and started preparing to load a fully charged battery cell into my GoPro, to sit in front of a formatted set and spend a fun day explaining stuff to the camera until I got it right. Before I could even pour a cup of coffee I remember thinking to myself, “this sucks”.
I don’t want to do this. Everything about this sucks. What I’m making sucks. I suck. What came to pass after that was the bulk of last year. I was still producing and releasing content on my channel, but I had broken. I made some quick effort to try and resort back to a “safe mode” – recognizing on the surface that I longed for the honest days of pointing my phone at a thing and talking off script- but I couldn’t get back to that point. As with everything and anything in life, there is no back.
In the wake of 2020 and all the debilitating crap that spins around the periphery of any given day, I find myself at large attempting to rediscover who I am, what direction I’m going in really, and what actually matters to me now. If you follow ROBOHEMIAN! (my channel), then you know I haven’t really released much of anything lately. Sufficient to say, this is why.
I’m trying to heal this year, and I wrote this post to work everything out in my own head. I hope that it’s helpful for anyone else out there who can relate in any way.
In spite of my stubborn hyper-vigilance to plot my own course, I still managed to let the power of suggestion guide my little boat astray. It wasn’t even a great big wind that pushed me awry, it was a lot of subtle gusts over time, all of which seemed to be pushing me towards a larger landmass on the horizon.
The truth is that: while I do crave stability and desire measurable success in my life, if I never achieve them, I don’t want to have spent my days chasing a mirage while forgetting about the happiness that comes from being true to yourself. Nothing is worth sacrificing your own authenticity. No perceived destination on the horizon is greater than the experience of the journey along the way as yourself.