Once Upon a Time, There Was a World Without Online Video

May 19, 2016

From mid-April to early May, my husband and I were on a bucket-list trip in Europe. We wanted to see Scotland, Ireland, England, and the Netherlands before we invested our focus on things like upgrading the house and starting a family. Through this entire trip, I only had 100MB of data available on my phone because of the lower-end international plan I purchased. Needless to say, that small amount of data makes watching YouTube videos nearly impossible.

I won't say it wasn't easy to avoid watching YouTube. In many cases, I didn't even think about pulling out my phone. Who would when you're on your way to see a Scottish castle, or when you're enjoying a great pint of beer in a pub in Dublin? But other times, it was a struggle. For example, all I could think about doing when we were waiting for our flights to the various countries was watching the latest video from my favorite creator. I'm also used to watching (or rather, listening to) YouTube clips when I'm putting on makeup each morning. Not having that luxury was -- dare I say it? -- difficult to get used to for the three weeks my husband and I were travelling.

I don't write all this to make anyone jealous about my trip to Europe, though I'm sure some of you will be. But the truth of the matter is the vacation with my husband opened my eyes to something very important about the way digitally-connected millennials (including myself) live our lives. And that truth is that we often miss out, or sometimes even purposefully ignore, the simpler life led by those who have gone before us.

Take, for example, the couple who ran the bed & breakfast my husband and I stayed at on the Isle of Skye. On the "history of Wilmar B&B" sheet in our room, the cottage's owners explained how they'd once visited Skye themselves and fell in love with that area of the island, and their house in particular. So they came back to buy the house and turn it into a B&B, complete with homemade sourdough bread every single morning. Wilmar B&B's owners chose to live on an island where big-brand stores like Starbucks and Target don't exist, where the cell phone service isn't very reliable, and where sheep are the only thing likely to hold you up on the single-track roads. But one look at the loch behind the Wilmar B&B, and you realize why the owners live there. 

Now depending on your age, you might have found the title of this month's column humorous, maybe even ridiculous. If you're over the age of 30 (maybe even 20), you of course know there was a world without online video, and it didn't exist so very long ago. YouTube is only ten years old. Sure, there were sites that boasted Flash videos and animated GIFs, but online video was not a readily accessible media at that point. Really, then, it shouldn't be hard to think about what life would be like without sites such as YouTube, or Facebook, or Vimeo, right?

For some of us internet users, it's hard to think about such a video-less life. And that is why I often wonder if this phenomenon isn't actually a curse, since many people couldn't imagine a world without their daily online video routine. It was admittedly hard for me to give up easy access to YouTube for three weeks, but really, if you think about it, I've been missing far more in my life because of the times I instead chose to watch videos. Of course, I'm not saying all those videos weren't worth my time; many made me very happy and even caused me to laugh out loud. But what if I could've laughed because of a conversation with my husband instead? Or what if I'd read a novel instead? I probably could've finished at least one or two more by now.

As much as I love and am an advocate for the power of online video, I came back from my trip determined to spend less time watching it. I've vowed to spend more time reading, to take up gardening again, to bake and cook more. To, literally, stop and smell the flowers. I can't imagine I'll ever give up online video entirely; after all, I am a millennial with digital needs. But I think I'm taking a healthy step towards determining just what those needs should be in my life, not just what I or others expect them to be.

I'm sure I'm not the only online video viewer with this mindset, either. As some of us start to cut back on our online video consumption, those who develop video (like creators and businesses) will have to work even harder at creating content we viewers still can't live without. Granted, businesses can't expect to keep the attention of everyone who watches their videos; it will only be the true fans who stick around, even when they choose to consume less overall content. In these cases, it's in businesses' and creators' best interests to invest 100% of their efforts into understanding and creating content those viewers would be loathe to miss. And then, no matter how many roses we viewers choose to stop and smell, creators and businesses can rest assured we won't live in a video-less world for too long.

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