As I sit in the Oasis Chill Lounge, in an Adirondack chair typing this post, you might think I am on a beach in a tropical location enjoying a pina colada, the sound of waves, the feeling of the warm sun above me, and sand below me. Instead, I am drinking a Diet Coke, with the sounds of screaming young girls in every direction, announcers on mics, and various music playing to my left and right. While it’s 80 degrees outside, inside it’s more like 69 inside, and below my feet is a green rug imitating grass.
I am at VidCon 2017 in Anaheim, CA. This huge convention center transforms into an dream land for all people who love the connections that are made online through the various media formats. YouTube stars host meet and greets and live stage Q and A’s. Instagram has a large set-up where pics can be taken on plastic white donuts hanging from their booth. Taco Bell is testing the Fantasy Freeze drink, which picks up on the Unicorn/Magical craz happening these days. The Genius Kitchen lets visitors decorate their own donuts. Everybody has about five popsockets (free at most booth carrying the branding of various sponsors). And, YouTube stars are selling their products from make-up, to jewelry, to shirts and books. Lines wrap around each booth and over three days, its not hard to fill one of many free bags, with free merchandise! Who would have known that YouTube was going to turn into a marketing giant platform for so many?
This is my second VidCon. I came with my then 12-year-old son and one of his best friends last year as well. They LIVE and LOVE the online world – maybe more so than what had been the rage of Hollywood and its celebrities, when I was a teen. The various online media platforms allow for anybody to be a “star” even if it is just within their own school or community. The other day, some guy dressed up as a shark on a skateboard was all the rage online in my hometown.
I can honestly say that one of the key components in my son feeling okay to come out as gay at 11-years-old was due to his idol, Joey Graceffa. This young man created his own channel and by simply being himself, sharing his life openly with his audience and later writing a book about his journey (he too is gay), this gave my son the strength to be himself. Not only did it make it “okay” to be gay, but it gave his friends the permission to love him regardless of his orientation.
This year, I noticed so many young people walking around with “Free Hug” signs with the hope to further connect to their peers. The range of people here is vast. Old, young, trendy, cozy, every color hair, style and person is here. The online world does not discriminate. This group of people might be the cutting edge of what we all desire in life; to be authentic, to be connected to others, and to have a voice (if one so chooses). The online world is not ruled by producers, directors, writers, crews teams, and actors. Here you can learn to be all those things for yourself if you want to create content and put it out there for the world to see. I believe this is why this world has become so popular. People get to be who and what they want and the audience is the judge of popularity. Being popular online could mean 1000 instagram followers for someone, or a comment of “You look great!”. Youth find validation in their online community. It is their truth and who are we to deny them that?
There has been much written about how with social media and texting/direct messaging, there is a disconnect with youth and those who learn to communicate through these means. I would argue this community is more connected to other people than we ever have been. My kids have great friends who live across the country. They get to see diversity in all its colors. The online community has embraced all those who may have been deamed “unpopular” – those with mental health challenges, the LGBTQIA+ community, those with various talents and skills. Yes, even those who love video gaming have found a place to really belong and join in a community of their own – no longer “alone” gaming in their rooms. Now millions watch people game online. The internet connects us to people now more than we ever have before.
Some will say the internet and its ability to reach everyone and anyone anywhere at anytime is a horrible thing. I like to look at the positives. I can see the yin and yang of it all. I focus on the positives. I see the internet and its reach as societies inability to confine thinking. Access to people, talks, videos, opinions, and the link open us up to live a more free life. As I say to many, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” — Thus, information is finally free!! We can look up and research the heck out of anything and more and more information, opinions, thoughts, videos, comments, blogs, vlogs, posts, etc. allow us to think freely. We can more clearly tap into who we are and who we are meant to be from the other people’s truths.
I believe we are here to form connections, to see ourselves in others, to love and accept those that are different than us and to better understand the human nature. The internet provides us with a look at humanity from so many angels. Almost anything is “Googleable”. I learned to fix the headlights of my Prius on my own by watching a YouTube video. My friend completely repaired her own dryer through an online video. We are in an age where we can stay connected to family and friends by the click of an app. We receive news in real-time. We can learn about someone we are may work with, date, or just find interesting in the matter of minutes.
While I was going through difficult times in my life, I found inspiration through online videos of talks from various authors, inspirational speakers, and educators. I learned that I was not alone in my stuggles. There are groups on Facebook for just anyone looking for human connections around a current life struggle. We do not need to look far for human connection online. While it may not be a hug, or face-to-face interaction, there is healing to be found by the words of those who are brave enough to post. And, should you have the opportunity to visit VidCon, you will meet so many people who just want to connect and perhaps a free hug or two!