Online fascination

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — When it comes to social media, most of us have watched videos online from those funny cute cats, to “how-to” tutorials, maybe an inspiring speech, or a news story.

But, if you ask kids, what they are watching, the answer may leave some parents asking questions. Such as, what is the fascination with the social media platform YouTube that millions of people are fascinated with watch other people’s lives.

One of the more famous YouTubers is 16-year-old Tanner Braungardt from Augusta, Kansas. The YouTube sensation is one of millions of people who shares his personal videos online.

On his YouTube channel, Tanner shows his trampoline tricks, his personal struggles, or just hanging out with his friends and family.

Tanner told me, after watching others on YouTube, he decided to video the things he’d like to watch. He calls this the future of media, maybe even a replacement for traditional TV. What he’s doing is very popular. Tanner, has 2.5 million followers and growing. Most of his viewers are young people who are glued to his channel, essentially watching him live his daily life.

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So, why are videos like this so popular with the younger generation? I went to psychologist Molly Allen to find out.

“It feels like an itch they can’t scratch. Well, I just have to keep looking at these, because there might be something. Because, the next one might be the real cool one, I haven’t seen yet,” said Allen.

At a recent event, almost a thousand kids turned out to meet Tanner in his hometown. KSN asked teens, Maya Franklin and Desmond Jones, why the fascination with someone else’s life online?

“Because, some of the stuff they see like, they probably want to do it like one day or something,” said Franklin.

“Probably things we’ve thought about doing, haven’t got around to doing it. So, just watching somebody else do it entertains us I guess,” said Jones.

Educators say this on-line fascination is part of a changing culture. Jen Hendricks with Wichita State Universities Strategic Communications Department says YouTube is right in the center of the changes.

“YouTube really has created a space for the younger generation to express themselves whether that’s through creating content or simply sharing,” said Hendericks.

Kevin Hager, with Wichita State’s Elliott School of Communication, believes these kind of videos are changing how we’re being informed and entertained.

“Well, I think if the traditional media wants to stay relevant, they’re going to have to pay attention to what these young people are doing. If its YouTube and other video outlets on the web as well where they’re going, well, that’s where I think they need to be as well,” said Hager.

Make no mistake this is big business. Tanner is one of the many online personalities who make money from advertisements and sponsorships. Some make thousands, others make several millions of dollars a year. Each click and view providing a window into someone else’s life.

Molly Allen explains it this way, “There’s nothing you can do that’s going to be as interesting as what is in that screen.”

But, she cautions parents to make sure kids understand, these online videos are only a snapshots of other people’s lives.

“You know if I was just like him then my whole life would be perfect, it’s like no. He’s got his own fair share of problems too. I imagine everybody does,” said Allen.

This is especially true when it has the potential to interfere with daily in-person relationships. I asked Maya Franklin if it’s become a problem in her home.

“They’re just like are you paying attention? Yeah, I’m paying attention. But, are you really paying attention? No, okay.”

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Tanner says he’s kept very busy coming up with new challenges and answering his fan mail.

Molly Allen says its okay for the young followers to keep watching, if they make it just one part of their lives.

“If you want to enjoy these videos fine. But, there’s much more to life than just watching this kid live his life, said Allen.

Tanner says he is branching out from YouTube into other business areas. Meanwhile, there are some psychologists who believe that YouTube has become too addictive, and parents and adults need to set limits for how much time they spend watching it.