The Exploration of Social Media as a Gamble

There is quite a lot of buzz around social media’s influence on our mental health. Today I’d like to cover the topic of gambling.

Becoming Famous

In the past, the road to fame has been largely hidden from view. Movie stars became hits after years of training and auditions, musicians via talent scouts at local gigs. The internet ushered in an uncertain promise that the average person can become famous in a few moments, whether they want to or not. However, that seeking of fame is something largely coveted, as in the past it promised power and wealth for the most part. This links the pursuit of fame with tangible reward.

Pulling the lever

The definition of gambling is the wagering of some resource or value on an event with an uncertain outcome. The degree of uncertainty to which that event has to have, is under debate. Classically gambling has been done with things of monetary value, i.e. tangible things, but I think that now it is being done with mental currency. Your attention and time is worth something, quite a lot actually. If you’re working, you can easily estimate the cost by seeing how much you earn per hour, and take that as an estimate. That doesn’t mean that is YOUR worth, it is just how much you’d make if you focused on the certain job at hand. Next, you can estimate the amount you’d make if you did become famous. It’s been many years since my time with YouTube, however my rule of thumb for a quick and dirty calculation of earnings is 2$ per 1,000 views on YouTube (once you’re monitized). To get there, you currently need something like 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 public watch hours. That’s the equivalent of ~112 binges through the entirety of Game of Thrones. So at that stage, you’ve probably already racked up a few million views and dedicated a significant amount of time to the brainstorming, making of the video, editing, etc. If you decide to advertise, add that money in too. In monetary terms, despite maybe not spending any real money, you have invested a few thousand worth into the attempt, i.e. the stake/bet/wager.

Watching the wheel spin

There are thousands of successful youtubers/influencers etc. on YouTube. Most of them seem to come from the same background, some everyday person whose personality, shock value, whatever, caught the attention of a few thousand, and snowballed into a following. While many may have been striving for a YouTube career, often their channels started out of interest in whatever they were doing. Almost every channel that you come accross has a similar story, the promise of fame and riches doing what you love everyday, being your own boss and having soft diffused RGB led shapes on the walls, accenting the expertly laid out small pots of shrubs on wooden shelves. In the past, your contact with fame was so much less personal. Seeing the actor in a movie, once or twice a year. Maybe seeing them in real life and they sign your autograph. Their lives are larger than life. They have mythological statuses. Entire jobs are dedicated to following their every move. Now your favourite YouTuber? You see them almost every day. They talk to you, ask for your opinions. You get an insight into their daily lives mostly without the paparazzi middleman. They are human, your friends, someone to look up to. But because they’re human, you can imagine yourself doing what they do. Every time you watch that video and become more and more familiar with their methods, interests and learn more from what they teach you, the confidence of being able to do what they do grows. That feeling is the wheel spinning. It keeps you coming back for more chances, more attempts.

You win a car!

There are around 1.8 BILLION YouTube accounts. Out of those, 16,000 have over 1 million subs. Lets ignore for a moment the small fraction of content farms and bots, in that case your channel has roughly a 1 in 1,000,000 chance to get to a relative level of youtube success. I’m ignoring the fact that the majority of channels aren’t your competitors, and that plenty of people can have excellent jobs with less than a million subscribers, but to simplify this I’m running with these numbers.

In my view, seeking out a successful job as a YouTuber, is a very very big gamble. In terms of the capital you put down, its your time, mental health and attention. I don’t have an issue with people reaching for stardom and those who have ambition, the problem I see is that YouTube success appears much easier than it is, it’s very competitive, and fighting it out amidst the maelstrom of content out there is a grueling task. OK, now what?

Don’t gamble.

That dream of being a big youtuber? Don’t make it a gamble. Make it a hobby. Whatever content you are passionate about and want to share, do it because you enjoy it! If you want to set yourself goals and a schedule, do it to become better at time management and organisation, not because it brings you more views. It will, but if you change the goal, becoming a better person will come faster than the views. And those will likely follow.

Don’t forget that there are other ways to get paid for that hobby or passion. If it’s tech, reach out to the tech companies, hardware stores, maybe try for an engineering degree. If it’s art, maybe you can do local art classes, or group sessions, or commissions. If it’s life advice, start writing a small blog with a few thoughts, maybe one day that will turn into a book. In essense, there are many ways to make a living from the things you do, but social media is the most easily accessible version of success that we can consume. It doesn’t make it the best or most fulfilling.

My gamble.

I used to make gaming videos, just as Minecraft and gaming channels started to become popular. While it earned me a little bit of money, what it really did was set years of insecurity and resentment, as well as guilt for “not making it big in an easier environment”. I partnered up with Machinima after a short video went a tiny bit viral, and signed away 60-80% of my revenue for the title of “Machinima Director” which in hindsight, brought me absolutely nothing (Machinima was terrible for its creators). Back then, I saw the growth of tiny channels I played with to huge 6-7 figure sub behemoths. I started playing more in what was popular, spent hours and hours setting up servers, mods etc. to try to compete. After a while, my love for the game and the fun escape it brought, only brought a feeling of tedious repetition and dread. I thought for a very long time afterwards that I wasn’t as funny or interesting or good as those that succeeded. The thing is, that can be true, but it’s ok. The goal is to enjoy what you do while having enough to not worry about the daily life. I was in that state before I started the channel, and all it brought was the deterioration of my mental health. I was gambling to reach that top spot, not taking into account the chances and what I was giving up to do so. And when my gamble didn’t pay off, I suffered greatly.

Take care of yourself.

To summarise, before taking the risk, really take a long hard look at what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Roughly calculate the chances, and accept failure as part of the process ahead of time. Social media wants to make you a gambling addict, instead of a successful investor.

Ivan Written by:

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