Depending on when you start the clock, the idea of making a living on the Internet has been around for a couple of decades. It has reached it apotheosis as platforms like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok drive huge amounts of traffic, and therefore earning potential. A survey a few years ago showed kids in the U.S. chose YouTuber as their most desired career.
For years, digital creators have been trying to convey the ennui of this supposed dream job: they’re lonely, they’re burnt out, they’re built up then tossed aside by unfeeling algorithms and corporate bureaucracy. They feel stuck between the kinds of content that makes them money and the content they actually want to produce.
Maybe the YouTube creator class isn’t all that different than everyone else. My guess is that most people end up burned out and dissatisfied with their careers at some point. However the point of being a creator is that you could avoid this fate.
The problem is once YOU become the product, it becomes difficult to either take a break or go off in a totally different direction. One of my favorite bloggers Jason Kottke of kottke.org wrote this week that he is taking an extended break from the site in order to recharge, refocus and (hopefully) find a second wind. Kottke writes:
This is probably a good time to admit that I’m a little terrified about taking this time off. There’s no real roadmap for this, no blueprint for independent creators taking sabbaticals to recharge. The US doesn’t have the social safety net necessary to enable extended breaks from work (or much of anything else, including health care) for people with Weird Internet Careers…With so many more people pursuing independent work funded directly by readers & viewers these days, this is something all of us, creators and supporters alike, are going to have to think about.
In some sense, we all have ‘weird internet careers’ these days. Even if you aren’t directly earning a living online, your career is affected by what happens online. Here’s hoping there is a sustainable path forward for independent creators that doesn’t involve sacrificing other aspects of their lives.