I just finished watching a series of videos that have left me feeling grateful that I'm heading into middle-age rather than heading into middle-school.
You know what? You couldn't pay me enough money to live through adolescence in the age of YouTube (.pdf) – not when it's this easy to upload a hate-filled rant slamming another teen -- in this latest high-profile case, a teen whose only crime was that she dared to diss teen celebrity Jason Bieber.
"I don't care if you hate Justin Bieber – I don't care," the video's creator, Hannah (MissVideo28), declares, staring intently into the camera. "But you don't need to post it on YouTube."
[Warning: Some of the language in this video may offend some viewers.]
A flood of angry responses to her initial video leads to a follow-up video, which is more an attempt to take her commenters to task than to offer a bonafide apology:
"I've gotten a lot of hateful comments on that video....You don't need to hate me for that....I'm just really disappointed in the people who commented. Frankly, it's just really horrible, okay?"
It's not until you view her most recent video that you start to get a sense of what YouTube has to offer her this young girl: an audience.
Consider the way she interacts with her viewers ("It's that time to ask for more views on my videos and more subscribers") and how she responds to her viewer mail: ("'I dare you to pie yourself with a massive shaving cream covering your face and your hair'" someone has written. She responds: "I'm going to do that, more than likely when I get my new apartment - when my mom and I get our new apartment. So that should be funny. I'm up for anything, really I am. In-box me: tell me what would be interesting.")
The effect is sad and pathetic. Instead of viewing her as the mean girl – the effect that came across in the first video – and the angry girl – what came through in the second video – she comes across as someone more worthy of pity.
I can't help but wonder if the adults in her life know she is putting these videos out there, sharing pieces of her soul with he world, where they can be commented on and mocked by strangers.
I worry about what will show up in her in-box next: how far she will go to get her next hit (her next audience hit); where she will draw the line ("I'm up for anything, really I am").
And I wonder how many other young teens are bartering bits of their souls for attention.
When I was a middle-schooler, I wrote in a diary, and guarded the contents of that diary with my life. (I was so paranoid that someone might read my diary that I wrote my entries in code.) And yet this generation of preteens and teens entrusts its most intimate thoughts and feelings to the Internet, forgetting that the Internet can bite back and the Internet can tell secrets years later. Would you want your middle-school diary to track you down today?