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A look into the lives of a digital generation of people who try to learn strictly through watching YouTube videos Photos and Words written by Bailey Tennery

Jesse McGee flips off a ledge in the Univesrity Center quad at Humboldt State University.


esse McGee is doing back flips on the roof of Arcata High School at the end of a November school day. He’s on top of the main office building where the roof is flat and one story above the concrete ground. “I looked down and thought, oh, this doesn’t look that high,” he said. McGee, who graduated from the high school four years ago, was on the roof about 20 min# |OSPREY

utes working up the courage to jump off. He watched hundreds of hours of YouTube videos of people hopping off buildings and other obstacles like ninja warriors in a sport known as parkour. Now it was his turn. So he jumped. “I just watched this parkour video and I’m super hyped,” McGee said. “ It was dumb to be like yeah, this is possible.” McGee fractured his left ankle, one of the many injuries he’s en-

dured from practicing parkour. “It looked like I had an egg shoved in my ankle, and that was the worst swelling,” McGee said. “Then it went to super purple. I couldn’t rotate my foot at all.” It’s been almost two years since McGee made the jump. He is now healed up. Outside it’s raining. The weather keeps him from practicing parkour but gives him more time to watch more videos. He gazes into his cracked iPhone

wrapped in a blue case, watching professional parkour athletes doing flips, vaults and a move called cat leaps where a person jumps onto a higher surface, like a wall, and lands like a cat absorbing the impact. “I see people on Instagram posting what they are doing and naming the tricks and I was like damn. I had no idea that trick was called that!” McGee said. McGee is a part of a large digital generation that think they can learn

everything they need to know from YouTube videos. A Pew Research Center survey of about 4,500 U.S. adults found that the platform helps about half of them figure out how to do things they’ve never done before. So what’s the harm? University of Chicago Professor of Behavioral Scien Ed O’Brien says people like McGee get the illusion that they can perform an act simply by watching without having hands-on

experience. “If people view themselves as having 10/10 ability, then jump in and give a 2/10 performance,” O’Brien said. “This is a big psychological gap between who they thought they were and who they learn they are.” Three days a week, 21-year-old McGee works at Brio Breadworks in Arcata. Part of his job is to fill plastic containers of dough and weigh it. He wears a white apron. The floor is white from flour, and OSPREY | #

Jessie McGee performas a ____ off a banister at Humboldt State University.

the large industrial kitchen smells like yeast. “I’m on my feet for eight hours, then I’m on my bike for one hour before work and an hour after work,” McGee said. “If I factor in parkour, it’s a lot of leg work I’m doing.” McGee says he hates to make excuses but that’s how it goes. Professor of behavioral science O’Brien points out the possible disparity of watching. “There’s a risk that you’ll simply give up rather than keep practicing, saying to yourself ‘I guess I just don’t have it,’” O’Brien said. “Even though the only reason for the gap is because you merely watched others beforehand.” Humboldt State University freshman Jayson Ventura is another YouTube junky. He considers himself a casual gamer, but these days he plays less and spends more time on his phone or school computers watching other people play. “I spent a night in Gist Hall where I watched Super Mario Party from like 11 p.m. to 6 in the morning,” Ventura said. “It was stupid long and I was dumb for doing that.” The 18-year-old film major says he binge watches the game where up to four players tackle mini-games like Balloon Burst in a race to pump the Bowser balloon first. “There is probably a shot of dopamine every time I watch that,” Ventura said. Ventura doesn’t play as much as he’d like to because he doesn’t own the console needed for the game. Ventura has to borrow a console from a friend or wait to visit his family in Elk Grove to use his sister’s console. The last time he played # |OSPREY

Jayson Venture watches a ____ in an editing room in Gist Hall at Humboldt State University/




-Ed O’Brien University of Chicago Behavioral Sciences Professor

Jayson Venture watches a ____ in an editing room in Gist Hall at Humboldt State University/

was Christmas. “I watch it and see how shitty people are and get mad at them because they didn’t play optimally,” Ventura said. “In the end it’s a luckbased game.” Watching other people play pulls Ventura away from other priorities. “The vlog that I edited took two months,” he said. “It should have taken one month, because I have been watching Mario Kart Party videos.” Ventura watches other gamers on YouTube to learn how to manipulate mechanics of the game. It’s similar to cheat codes. “Basically you’re abusing how the physics of Mario Kart works and using it to your advantage,” he said. Ventura says he is out of practice and some tricks will take him a week to relearn. “By watching, I am losing my skill because I am not practicing,” Ventura said. “Just watching them doesn’t mean I am gaining the skill.” Researchers say people who play video games a lot may be doing so for the social experience. Max Sj and Juho Hamari from Tampere University in Finland investigated and published a study in 2017 on why people watch other people play video games. “The results show that feeling a sense of community in the watching experience not only increases how much people watch the streams, but perhaps more importantly was also the strongest determinant of following streamers and subscribing,” they wrote. Ventura isn’t just obsessed with Mario Kart. He is also a fanatic about the melodrama Detroit Be-


Edelin Hernandez watches a work out clip on Instagram on her phone at the Humboldt State University Library.

come Human, a narrative game set in the year 2038 where androids developed emotions. “I would love to play that game, but I like watching because I like reaction of the person I am watching,” Ventura said. In HSU’s Gist Hall, Ventura sits in a darkened computer lab with his shoes off as he watches 29-yearold Swedish YouTuber PewDiePie play Detroit Become Human. PewDiePie jokes as the android he is playing analyzes a dead man’s fingerprints, whose palm is stained red with blood. “Oh man, he must be jerking off a lot,” PewDiePie says as Ventura watches him play. “Yep there’s definitely better jokes coming, keep watching please.” Ventura chuckles. Then he watches his favorite part where an android housekeeper saves the young human from her father’s abuse. “It is very moving, I almost cried,” Ventura said. “I wanted to but nothing came out. In the back of my mind, the film major part of me was telling me that none of this is real.” HSU sophomore Edelin Hernandez watches one of her usual workout videos on her Instagram feed. She watches at least 30 of them a week. “I want a body like that, which is sad because then I put myself down,” Hernandez said. “I shouldn’t do that because it lowers my selfesteem.” Hernandez used to weigh 200 pounds but is now 184. “I feel intimidated by the workouts,” she said. “They seem really Internet Personality James Taylor


hard, so fuck, I don’t think I can do it. So I don’t.” Instead, she watches workout videos after more workout videos. She lost weight, not by working out, she says, but by switching to a vegan diet. “Freshman year I used to go to the gym with my roommate for a while but then we just gave up,” Hernandez said. “There’s always so many people at the gym. I feel like people would look at me when I’m doing something or make fun of me. I am not thin either.” Hernandez is working towards an environmental science degree. As assignments pile up the gym becomes further out of reach. “I make up a lot of excuses,” she said. “There’s time when I have too much homework to do. Usually the gym closes early and I can’t go. I could go on nightly runs but I’m too lazy because I have to wake up early in the morning.” When 22-year-old Emily Ivey, a Child Development Senior gets home from school, she decompresses into a world of beauty. “I spend an hour watching and I’m like, oh no, I spent another hour watching makeup videos again,” Ivey said. Ivey seldom wears makeup because she noticed no one wears

much around Humboldt. “I come to school for a couple hours and then go back home,” Ivey said. “It’s really hard to justify going full face for an hour of class and coming home to take it off.” Ivey watches a lot of videos by Jeffree Star, an American Internet celebrity, who has his own makeup band and 13 million YouTube subscribers. “When they put the makeup on, I feel like I’m in the presence of legends,” Ivey said. “The way they do make up seems so easy. It’s obviously not easy when you do it yourself for the first time.” Ivey also watches 19-year-old internet personality James Charles who has 15 million YouTube subscribers. “I will only watch them applying the makeup and nothing else,” Ivey said. “Even if they’re explaining something, I’ll just skip through. I just watch them put the makeup on and watch them say if they like the product or not.” Ivey wears makeup for special occasions and says the last time she wore some was on New Year’s Eve. “That night I just did a regular smoky eye,” Ivey said. “I don’t think I even put eyeliner on. I think it was just eyeshadow

and foundation. I’m going to get drunk anyways. I’m sure I won’t remember what I look like later.” Lastt year Ivey avoided wearing makeup, because she had hormonal acne called polycystic ovary syndrome. “You have typical pimples that are white, then you have the big pimples like bumps that you can’t do anything about, and I basically had that all over my face,” she said. Ivey watches experienced makeup artists on YouTube apply eyeshadow, and intricate eyeliners to a plain face. She has makeup of her own but it sits unused. “I keep my makeup palette in my desk with my notebooks. It sounds so bad. It just sits on top of my notebooks,” Ivey said. Why does society choose to experience actions by watching rather than performing the act themselves? O’Brien says we look to others to learn new things from the moment we’re born. “Our research suggests that people do want to perform acts themselves, but prematurely. They think that watching has given them sufficient training,” O’Brien said. Ivey says she doesn’t have the time or the effort it takes to put makeup on. “It’s more convenient to watch, because you’re not doing it yourself,” Ivey said. “I live vicariously through them.”


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