I was asked, so here goes.
Most of us who are older think young people are incredible at all things online. We have seen, for example, this brilliant TikTok which skewers billionaires and the lack of class consciousness in the US (Warning: very strong language. Not the best link to open at work, certainly not school appropriate).
I used to think all kids nowadays are amazing at gaming. It took me a while to realize that's not necessarily true. Sure, they've grown up with video games. However, they've also grown up with sports. It's part of their lives, but what value they get out of it is up to them. An example: there's no need to play a competitive game competitively. You can go in there, talk to your friends, mess around a bit, then do your homework, eat, go to sleep. There's no need to learn the rules, the objectives, or how using tactics and strategy win games. It's a form of afterschool recess, and I can't say they're doing anything wrong.
So I guess I'd say this. We see them engage new media in a way which impresses us. And we should be impressed and full of compliments. But perhaps it's possible to be more helpful than saying "Wow, what you're doing is so cool." After all, we remember being kids, doing awesome things but still feeling insecure. We weren't sure of their value. Only now can we say to ourselves "Hey, that was really worth doing. I should have done more of it."
If a young person is eager to know why making something online has value, that's what this guide is for. A number of us who are older are creating and sharing. What are we getting out of it?
Before I give a few guidelines, I should be honest. I've never gone viral, and I don't think if I go viral it would be for a good reason. More than likely, some awful, convoluted post which I wrote when I was in a mood will make the rounds, and I'll have to live it down.
It's not that beautiful, thoughtful writing can't be popular. It certainly can. And I do think I've written a few things rather well. But popularity online is a lot like popularity in real life: look at who gets popular for the most part. It's a miracle there's any representation or diversity with regard to popularity when some look like models, can present like professional actors, or already have a cult eager to promote their every word.
So why create anything here? What is gained by publishing? It's going to stun you to hear this, but popularity itself is pretty worthless. Look at how people who have everything, including fame, still feel they need to be influential and relevant.
This leads us to Rule 1: You're creating because you want to create.
"You're creating because you want to create?" What does that mean? Why am I indulging New Age tripe when someone needs to create content for 5 days a week, 20 times a month?
OK. Let's get a piece of paper or open a new document. Got it? Ready?
I want you to name something online which you loved. Maybe it was a video in which someone made eyeliner out of shoe polish, or a witty guide to building a garden in Minecraft. Or it was mesmerizing photos of the Everglades. Or a really funny sketch you find yourself rewatching when you feel bad.
Name it, then write a sentence about why you liked it so much. You can write more. How did you feel it changed your day? Is there anything about it that you think could be helpful for other people? Who is the content most suitable for, and what are they going through?
Congratulations. You've discovered something you might want to create, and in the process, you've created something yourself. You have a blog post ready to go. This process can be repeated as many times as one would like. "I saw this, thought it was funny and glamorous, and thought you would appreciate seeing this combination yourself."
"You're creating because you want to create" can be far more than posting your likes. It does eventually lead to reflection on craft and the medium itself. "Why do I like what I like?" you'll ask yourself, and you'll realize that some habits you have are reflective of your preferences.
There's another sort of post young people love and those of us who are older ought to love more: How-to.
Bo Burnham's "Eighth Grade" was incredible and powerful on this. Kayla, his eighth grade protagonist, creates her own YouTube channel, filling it with videos featuring life advice and how to navigate difficult situations. She gets a few viewers each video; she's got no clue what's happening in eighth grade. I can't say what she was doing was particularly healthy or wise. But it's hard for me to remember all the social pressures and things that made absolutely no sense at 14, and not think that someone trying to document that mess isn't brave.
Rule 2: You don't need to immediately solve problems. If you can identify them, you're winning. You should make that how-to about "how to do your homework," where you admit you watched someone livestream The Sims for 5 hours before talking to your bestie and then circled anything on a multiple choice worksheet for 3 minutes. Obviously, you should do your homework. There should be some attempt at organization and time management.
More importantly, you've got to be real with yourself. If you're killing time, why? In retrospect, eighth grade was hell for me, one of the worst years of my life. I had no clue what the purpose of anything I did that year was. I realize in retrospect that the adults in my life—who, to be sure, didn't mean badly—were failing me. They couldn't explain anything. It was all being told what to do and being growled at if I asked anything. I needed role models and mentors in a hurry, and if I had talked about how I felt, I might have actually looked for one.
You're going to make bad, cringey how-to posts about how to be confident, make friends, or deal. They're important. They're how you identify how you're feeling. You don't need to post them, necessarily. The draft folder can be a great help.
Rule 3 is where I trip up a lot. As you're making more content, you're not just telling people what you like or talking about how you deal. You also want to inform, and it's hard to know what to share that's relevant and not repetitive.
It's important to think about what makes someone informed. It isn't that they know a lot of random facts and correct everyone on small matters. What makes someone informed is that they can convey what's important.
"Convey" and "important" are the key words here. You want to write about how you're scared that the awful weather is getting worse because of climate change. You can and should link to reputable news articles describing the flooding in Europe washing cars away or the wildfires all over the US.
But you should also talk about you and the people you know. How you're seeing people right in front of you suffer because of extreme heat. How your family barely survived the Texas ice storm. Rule 3: The information you give is important because it's yours. People are reading you because of you.
That's a weird truth, I think, for a middle schooler, high schooler, or even college age student to realize. Yes, you have an audience, and they care for you. "So why does no one pay attention to me in real life? Why am I hopelessly awkward? And why don't I have an audience of thousands online?" I can't answer those questions. I don't know that they're important. Success is a lot like hitting the lottery. Consistent creation is more fundamental, and the purpose isn't to get success. The better you are at creating, after all, the more you work in spite of success.