The Skill-Tube Trap

We’ve all fallen down the YouTube rabbit hole. You start off intrigued by a philosophical break-down of a movie you just saw in theaters, and three hours later you’re drinking straight bourbon and actively trying to control your heart rate as a British man explains to you that we can’t really see black-holes coming and they can just show up and swallow our entire solar system without warning.

While everyone knows the feeling, I want to focus on a specific class of vortex: the phenomenon that I will henceforth be referring to as ‘Skill-Tube.’ (Coining it.)

We’ve all come across this type of content. The standard outline of these videos goes something like this: well lit ‘community influencer’ offers some sort of catchphrase greeting, then introduces the topic/activity that will be covered in the video. Then there’s either a list of pieces of advice or a demonstration/explanation covering the best practices in the subject in which that YouTuber works — complete with catchy yet understated background music and polished jump-cuts. It’s a proven formula, and it works.

There are content creators who make videos like this in every creative medium from car and motorcycle builds, writer’s advice, applying makeup, woodworking, singing lessons, survival tips, blacksmithing and knife restoration, video editing itself — the list goes on and on.

The success of these channels is dependent on two things. The first is the development of a cult of personality around the content creator that makes viewers feel a connection with them. The second, and the thing I want to focus on, is the videos instill a feeling that the viewer is actually learning something that will someday be actionable when you get involved in your particular interest.

Jenna Moreci is a big name in the ‘Book Tube’ community, and she has hundreds of videos containing advice for aspiring novelists. I think it’s safe to assume that the great majority of her audience isn’t working writers, in fact, her channel is one of my own guilty pleasures. So the question becomes who makes up her 160,000 subscribers?

There are thousands of these channels dedicated to infinite niche subjects, and they draw massive audiences and profits for their videos. I know I’m not the only one who’s stumbled across a channel or subject that suits my fancy and lost hours of my life “receiving advice” about an enterprise that I would love to go into either as a hobby or a profession — but perhaps will never actually entertain

What concerns me is when I come up for air after passively downloading all of this “advice” and demonstration, I never take the next step to apply it.

This strikes to the heart of the problem that is seen with the Skill-Tube™ and the schoolhouse mentality it thrives on. There’s this comfort of the perpetual punt, where one can just kick the can of starting a project down the road, is the perfect fuel that keeps Skill-Tube alive. Watching the content provides a synthetic feeling of gratification, as if passively watching a six-minute video on Skill-Tube is the same as working toward becoming skilled at something. It isn’t. You have to put the tips and tricks you pick up into practice. There has to be a moment when the advice is applied to your own personal project.

This is not to say that any advice posted on YouTube is inherently flawed or that these people are grifters, but I think the viewing public has an unhealthy relationship with the feeling that these advice binges provide. There seems to be a tendency to conflate what feels like building up knowledge on a subject, as opposed to beginning the long and painful trial and failure process which leads to actual success.

This is especially troubling when you consider that these content creators are not altruistic actors. There’s a reason Skill-Tube content creators create slick, well edited, often narrative-driven YouTube videos juxtaposed with the dry instructional videos from high school shop class. It’s because they don’t make any money if they teach you enough to make you independent producers. They make more money the more they keep you watching.

I simply want to point out that there may be many people out there who are genuinely interested in starting a new hobby or embarking on a passion project but are sidetracking themselves by falling into the black hole that is Skill-Tube.

So start doing the things you love to watch people do on Skill-Tube. If you have a question, or you’ve turned in for the night, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with hitting the suggested page and seeking out a little advice. Maybe just turn autoplay off.

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