When you ask someone under the age of 20 what they watch on TV, they tend to look at you with a sideways glance, as if to say, “who watches TV anymore?”. The new medium is the internet; Netflix, Amazon Video, Twitch and of course, YouTube, a platform that has 300 hours of video uploaded to its database every minute[1]. Who has the time to watch all this content? No one, well, no one but algorithms, as the relatively recent Adpocalypse[2] has proven.

 

To speak about the Adpocalypse we need to learn about how YouTube and its creators earn money, primarily through adverts being played before or during their videos. Rather than ads and corporations being vilified here, like in the recent blockbuster film Ready Player One that portrays corporate greed as the villain[3], for some time ads have and continue to be a source of income for many YouTubers around[4] the globe. About a year ago it became apparent to various news outlets that adverts from major advertisers were being played on YouTube videos that have since been deemed to be too “controversial”, loosely translating to anything regarding violence, sex or drugs. This opened the floodgates to many advertisers leaving YouTube, opting out of having their videos shown on anything deemed to be controversial. Well, anything the algorithm deemed to be controversial. Algorithms continue to be the buzz word of the day, transforming into clickbait and creating revenue for the various news websites jumping onto this malevolent train.

 

Soon, no one will care about algorithms. They will and have already become an integral part of our daily lives that will eventually melt into the foreground, a silent observer and manipulator that no one considers or cares about anymore. Articles from Buzzfeed and The Guardian will deteriorate and decay in the deep abyss of a Chinese server farm. Later that day the database will instead be used to store the remnants of a new meme, drawings parallels between the 2025 food shortage in Russia and the 1970s cartoon Scooby-Doo. In this hyperconnected world, a new catastrophe, meme or TV show is consumed and then forgotten in a blink of an eye.

 

How does art function in this hyperactive space, in this maelstrom of mediocrity and fleeting moments? To me, spending three months producing an artwork that will be seen by a few thousand people during its lifespan feels like a mistake, an old-world phenomena that feels out of place in this new regime. If the aim of artwork creation is fundamentally about showing the end product to an audience, if it’s all about the viewer[5], surely artists are inherently doomed to fail?

 

YouTubers are producing content on a daily basis watched by millions of people, showcasing their creations on a worldwide scale to the masses, an end point that most artists can only dream of. Spending any acute amount of time creating anything feels otherworldly now. Being fed a constant stream of content through platforms like Instagram or YouTube is inherently detrimental to how we ingest media. Did we as consumers strive for this end goal, are we to blame for self-absorbed, all-consuming, self-abusive lifestyles? Or are YouTubers to blame, or YouTube itself? Who’s propelling us forward, the companies or the consumers?

 

Screen Time features a number of YouTube videos and channels, compiled by me as an attempt to highlight the importance of the platform, how it’s distorting traditional video viewing hierarchies and creating strong, overzealous communities whilst positioning itself at the forefront of contemporary video art creation.

 

[1] Found at: https://fortunelords.com/youtube-statistics/

[2] More info here, a better analyse than I’ll be able to give: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7M7yyRDHGc

[3] Complex villains are in vogue: http://uk.businessinsider.com/ready-player-one-nolan-sorrento-complex-villain-review-2018-3

[4] Is Earth Actually Flat?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNqNnUJVcVs

[5] This is an incredibly broad statement, although in this context I am talking broadly of artworks made for exhibitions, publicly funded institutions or general makers who see their artwork as ‘complete’ when exhibited in front of an audience.