The YouTube Generation: Smarter than Ever

Abiola Sulaiman

Online video has become the clear successor to traditional cable. Residents of the United States between 18 and 50 years old already spend more time watching videos on the Internet than they do on their televisions. In Canada, approximately 28 million adults have access to the Internet, and approximately the same proportion of Canadians own a smartphone with access to video streaming apps. Further evidence of the gradual and eventual displacement of cable television is the fact that  commercial advertisers are jumping ship onto online platforms due to these statistics. According to a report by Business Insider, online video ads are set to grow by 19.5 percent heading into 2016, whereas TV ad growth will dip by 2.8 per cent.

Internet video is quickly becoming the number one source for entertainment and information, and YouTube is leading the charge as the second most visited social media website (behind Facebook) among both the Millennial generation (those aged 18 to 34 in 2015) and Generation Z (those aged 2 to 17 as of 2015). It’s become the largest and most popular platform for viewing and creating video content online, attracting over 1 billion unique visitors daily to consume 2.9 billion total hours of content in a vast variety of genres, from music to news to politics.

The YouTube generation lives by the ‘four Cs’: “creation, curation, connection, and community.” The video website serves its purpose as a go-to digital platform, letting users control when and where they can get a quick laugh or when and where they feed their nostalgia through childhood films. Most important of all, the site allows people to become independent learners, becoming less academically limited in their pursuit of knowledge (no matter if curiosities are trivial or high level) due to the vast amount of educational resources and “how-to” videos freely available on demand – resources that are, for the most part, impossible to attain simply relying on TV.

As most familiar with the site can attest, YouTube has evolved dramatically from the highly annoying, low-quality cat videos that dominated the site a decade ago. The website is gradually becoming a global platform for learning and is fostering social entrepreneurship. Examples of individuals who have uploaded their way into entrepreneurship include a personal favourite, Swedish gaming and commentary personality Felix Arvid Ulf Kjelberg, also known as PewDiePie, and Canadian ‘edutainment’ YouTube personality Matthew Santoro.

Production and content from a wide array of independent video creators are highly sophisticated and garner more views and subscribers than even established media names that crossover onto YouTube. For example, independent science and technology channels such as SciShow has 2.5 million subscribers, and CrashCourse has 2.8 million subscribers, and they often employ effective storytelling methods that attracts young viewers.

YouTube is also providing an unique and engaging outlet for current and future generations to become politically active. A prime example is the use of YouTube by individuals to document the 2011 Arab spring by uploading raw footage available for all to view and become socially and emotionally connected. Because of the unprecedented exposure to social activism on YouTube, many, such as Anne Kingston of Maclean’s Magazine, believe that Generation Z will become more tolerant than its predecessors “of racial, sexual and generational diversity, and less likely to subscribe to traditional gender roles.”

As mobile devices and the Internet become more accessible among Millennials and Generation Z—and as the learning space grows on YouTube—the digital age can and should produce a much more intelligent, ambitious and socially conscious generation than its predecessors. The key component to ensuring that future generations live up to these lofty expectations is their ability to continually utilize and maximize access to online video information. Merely having access to these resources is not enough—the upcoming generation must be encouraged to be more proactive and freely capitalize on endless opportunities accompanying the digital age through the aforementioned ‘four Cs’. This is the key to encouraging and improving independent learning and motivating freedom of expression online.

Abiola Sulaiman is a 2016 Master of Public Policy candidate at the School of Public Policy and Governance. Prior to being admitted into the MPP program, he earned a Bachelor of Health Studies at York University, where he specialized in health policy analysis and the social determinants of health. Abiola continues to focus on issues surrounding health care policy in Canada, but also has interests in areas of international relations, immigration, and urban policy.