On YouTube Stars, Social Networks, and… Existentialism
Existentialism is a philosophical approach that was developed and popularized a century ago by thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Søren Kierkegaard, Albert Camus, and others.
Existentialists believe that human beings are haunted by the terrifying possibility that they might reach the end of their short lives on Earth without having left any real legacy for future generations.
This basic human fear is what pushes us to conquer Mount Everest, land on the moon, win Olympic medals, paint the Mona Lisa, or develop the Theory of Relativity.
For many decades, our ability to leave a lasting impression on the world was extremely limited.
Most of the power was concentrated in the hands of book publishers and Hollywood producers, and even if you wrote a brilliant screenplay, painted an inspiring painting, or authored a thrilling detective novel, your place in the spotlight was far from guaranteed.
What does this have to do with YouTube and social networks?
Circa 2005, YouTube and Facebook took the world by storm. Suddenly, for the first time in history, the glass ceiling was shattered. Having connections in publishing or in TV was no longer a prerequisite for worldwide fame.
With the push of a button, you could reach thousands or even millions of viewers.
Ask any existentialist and they’ll tell you that the enormous success of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and the like relies in great part on the human desire to create, express ourselves, say our piece, and leave our unique fingerprint on the world.
It is often said that we live in a digital age, an age of technology, and that’s true.
But in a sense, all of those billions of people sharing an endless stream of posts, photos, videos, and tweets are merely following in the footsteps of our ancestors, motivated by the same common desire:
to leave our mark on the world.