Everybody loves shitting on the internet for being inherently “toxic” and “problematic.”
I get it.
In a lot of ways, social media has made many of us obnoxiously vain, overly-sensitive and unable to think for ourselves. But I’d be lying if I said I wished the internet didn’t exist.
As shallow as it sounds, it feels like my entire personality was born of the internet. I started making YouTube videos when I was 14 years old. I’d set my little digital camera on a stack of books, act out a sketch and edit the footage on Windows Movie Maker. I’d only get about 10 views on each video, but that didn’t stop me from creating more, making YouTube the avenue through which I effectively became myself.
When I got to high school, I graduated to iMovie and my Dad pitched in to help me buy a DSLR. Instead of sketches, I began to do more sit-down style vlogs, which essentially became a visual diary of my high school years. I’d make videos with titles like “things guys should know about girls” and “taking texting and social media too seriously”— all of which were coded subtweets of actual happenings in my day-to-day life. But nobody knew who or what I was actually referring to, and this was comforting to me. YouTube was this secret world where nearly anything felt possible.
I was an amplified version of myself on YouTube. I was witty and quick, intuitive and insightful. I was the person that I was in my head. The one I could never quite translate into real conversations for fear of being labeled “weird” or “too emotional.” I was far more serious in my YouTube videos than I was at school, where I either overcompensated for my Blackness with exaggerated loudness or minimized myself by assimilating to the dominant culture. At school I was too Black and not Black enough. But on YouTube, I was just me.
I experienced through the YouTube community what many marginalized folks are experiencing through online communities like Instagram and Twitter today. My small following was an aggregate of other weird Black girls, fandom kids and folks from the LGBTQ community who all really just seemed to get it. These folks, like me, were using the internet as a sort of fitting room, trying their personalities on for size.
A friend of mine once told me that she had to become herself on the internet before she became herself in real life. And as someone who has always used the internet as a gateway to my true self, I feel that. Without the internet, I might be boring and tasteless. I might not be a writer and I probably wouldn’t give a damn about most of the things I’m passionate about. I’d definitely be way less cute — shoutout to Natural Hair YouTube for teaching me everything I know. But perhaps what I’m most thankful for is the fact that because of the internet, I’m a lot less afraid.
Collage by Emily Zirimis.