The beauty of vanity projects

I saw a post on social media where the writer and those commenting were eye-rolling at a kit for videoing yourself. I concede that “Like Me Vlogging Kit” is cringeworthy, but a light, a mic, a phone holder, and a tripod were included in the kit, which would be handy for a lot of types of videoing one’s self or someone/something else in close proximity. And it’s likely to make the quality substantially better than just recording with the phone.

The whole notion of putting stuff out there in a quest for likes (or the other platform equivalents) is problematic for people of all ages for a variety of reasons, but that’s not what I’m here for today.

The sweeping judgement against anyone who would use a kit like this is … unfortunate. Best case scenario: it’s aimed at the quality of the contents of the box.

Many people go to YouTube, to TikTok, to the internet at large looking for entertainment or to learn how to do something. Do we really only want people creating and sharing creative work if it’s through an approved channel? Do we want to go back to an era of high demand and low supply and if you didn’t know someone, sleep with someone, or be the one-in-a-million who is unknown and makes it anyway? Learning only to get a grade and a piece of paper?

“Too much free time” is often used as a quick dismissal, judging the creator’s use of time. I have two trains of thought to come out of that. 

First, do the people who make “real” or “acceptable” entertainment have too much free time? “It’s their job,” sure, but it wasn’t for the years/decades that they were creating that skill base.

Second: what should they do with the free time instead? What do you do with yours?

Yes, there are people who have spent a lot of time getting really good at really odd skills. Why is that worse than spending four or five (or more!) hours a day watching TV/Netflix? Or worse than—ironically—spending hours a day scrolling through YouTube videos that people made at home with their phones? Or worse than hours spent learning how to play an instrument or paint or code or other things that are typically deemed “acceptable” ways to spend free time?

And why not document learning the unusual skills? Or create performances or behind-the-scenes videos once the skills are good enough? Why not see if it’s interesting enough to gather a following? 

And we forget that when people make something and put it out into the world, there’s vulnerability involved. “Here, I made this,” is scary, especially online where people are not well-known for their kindness and generosity of words and spirit.

Years ago, I had a friend about my age (GenX) who created a vlog every day for a year. It was a massive amount of work. They were 3-to-5-minute videos, primarily of him talking about whatever was on his mind that day. 

They were excellent.

Narcissistic? Vain? I don’t think so. I guess you might watch them and disagree. Attention-seeking in a way, because it’s rare for someone to create and post videos online and wish for no one to see them. But putting them out there for whoever enjoys them and putting them out there for as many likes as possible are really different.

It’s possible for a 3-minute video of some 40-something guy talking about whatever is on his mind that day to change your day for the better, for it to be three of your minutes well-spent.

When I went to look up this friend’s vlogs (I didn’t remember the lengths, and I was curious if he’d done more since then), YouTube suggested a video of a woman who does abstract painting with watered-down acrylics and a hair dryer. It caught my attention and was fascinating to watch. I have no desire to do those sorts of paintings, but I very much enjoyed watching her work and seeing the finished product. If I wanted to do those, that type of “vanity recording” would be invaluable. And it’s free! I don’t need an art degree to make (and potentially sell) paintings. And I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess art school doesn’t include moving paint on a canvas with a hair dryer.

I’ve watched videos of people creating all sorts of interesting things. A vase from colored pencils. Sand art. A variety of musical multitracks. Poetry reading. Comedy. Calligraphy. People reading books. Cooking. Various home renovations.

Maybe instead of thinking they’re vain or have too much free time, we can be grateful for their generosity of taking the time, energy, and expense to put their stuff out into the world for us to consume for free.

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