The Rise of the Global Dream
Thoughts on the modern world from a Millennial
Back in ye olden days, the procurement of fame and distribution depended on 2 factors: connections and luck. Fast forward to the age of YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter, the recipe is significantly different. It’s algorithms, hearts, retweets and digital word of mouth.
In 2009, Lucas Cruikshank aka Fred Figglehorn became the first person in history to gain 1 million subscribers. At 15, he was just a farm kid from Nebraska with about 39 videos uploaded on YouTube. There were no audition tapes, no scouts hanging outside of school routes and no stage moms. Fame became something you can make. In a way, the Internet became the new middle man and contributed to the democratization of amassing a decent income through traditionally marginalized art forms such as film and writing.
The Internet took power from executives and publishers and transferred it directly to the people. There is no doubt that we are in an age of a modern polis with millions of digital amphitheaters. Content creator is now a legit career choice that can make a decent income if you can figure out how to do it right. The only gatekeeper is the algorithms and bots that determine the worthiness of redistribution.
You do what for a living?
My old high school had this obsession of telling students that the jobs they’ll end up doing don’t exist yet. That was back in 2005 when YouTube just came out and a 128MB USB drive costs about $40. My high school is a bit more progressive than most.
Nowadays kids aspire to become Instagram and YouTube stars, and USB drives make better freebies than candy. The process of becoming Internet famous, however, isn’t as linear as getting a desk job as an accountant. There is no age limit or budget, and the original pioneers have only a maximum of 10-ish years of experience.
YouTuber, Influencer and Content Creator are all new career paths that came out of the Internet revolution, with Professional Gamer tailing closely behind due to the rising popularity of the streaming platform Twitch. No one truly understands it yet, partly because everything is just moving too fast for any single person to process it all.
Millennials and traditional white collar jobs don’t mix
“I washed dishes so I could make movies. it was never a way for me to make money” — Casey Neistat
Back in 2011, my mom’s old boss looked at me and said — “you can’t make any money writing”. As a balding man with a dying textile business, I could have said the same thing right back at him.
In his mind, the image of the impoverished writer comes to mind. The same sentiment existed across the broad — from college media professors, career advisers and anyone else that advocated for the traditional path of school, work and then retirement. Anyone that struggled or rebelled against this cultural and expected life plan was either branded as ADHD, disruptive or too brain dead from too much TV. Digital nomadism was in its early days and only the fringe crazies became one.
There is no doubt that Millennials and traditional white collar jobs don’t mix that well — and I don’t blame us for it. We are the generation that got given access to the world through bezel glass portals connected together through fiber cables and invisible waves. The more we peer into it, the more we want to be part of that world. We all want to be Alice and climb through the looking glass.
Some companies and industries have managed to leverage this intense curiosity and deep desire to exist in the fantastical world while others are dying a slow but eventual death.
Created, connected and curated by the People.
The most common advice from content creators who make more than $50k a year or have at least 10k following of some sort is to consistently create. They make self-imposed deadlines, make commitments and focus on growth. For some, it becomes the second full-time job on top of their traditional day job — until that becomes their actual full-time gig.
For many people, it is still hard to admit but the new generation is more entrepreneurial in their endeavors than previous generations before. The new masses of content creators have no fear of failure because they are constantly being confronted with survivorship bias. Reaching arbitrary numeric milestones is akin to winning awards back in school. But it’s not the teachers that get to pick this time — it’s the people. Or rather, it’s their people.
In order to become financially sustainable, they have to keep creating and connecting. It’s a process of throwing content at a digital wall to see what sticks, to capture enough intrigue and attention from strangers like market stall sellers looking to sell their products and wares. Some do better than others by experimenting, by shaking things up, by mashing and recycling a kaleidoscope of old ideas and techniques to make something new, original and unique.
Some go down the controversial route while others just do their own thing — as strange or on the fringe that thing might be as judged by popular notions of reality and normality. There are enough connected people congregating on major platforms to have at least one person that’s your kind of audience. They might not be on all the time but they do exist.
The new global dream
“That dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.” — James Truslow Adams, on the American Dream
Who needs Mars when we’ve got the Internet? As wages stagnate and the cost of surviving increases, the new generation of this hyper-connected reality is more critical and judgmental of institutions and traditional modes of thinking. We are encouraged to be creative as children but discouraged as adults. We are told that we can be anything we want then told not to take the path of the unknown.
Millennials recognize and understand there is a disconnect between the world as view by critics of their life choices and the physical spaces and reality they exist in. Why get into a twenty-year student loan repayment plan when one can build a life on the Internet? To a lot of Millennials, the real world has become overrated and too expensive to live in. It’s not escapism. It’s choosing to do something different because the choices available isn’t desirable and cannot produce the desired outcomes. It’s the active engagement in creating a life that they want and how they want.
Gen Z have it a bit easier than us Millennials because as we become parents, we understand the two worlds much better than our own parents and grandparents. We are better at navigating the spaces and structures we’ve created as communities. We are better at not being hypocrites towards the pursuit of the dream — whatever that dream may be.