YouTube’s culture of burnout is only getting worse

14 November 2018, 17:37

youtube burnout lilly singh elle mills
Picture: YouTube: Elle Mills / Lilly Singh
Benedict Townsend

By Benedict Townsend

As Lilly Singh announces an indefinite break from YouTube, we must once again face the very real problem of burnout on YouTube

This week Lilly Singh announced that she is taking a break from YouTube for as long as it takes her to feel ready to return. This was not your standard YouTube drama or clickbait, this was a creator genuinely opening up, in a vulnerable way, to her followers and admitting that she is not happy with the state of her life on YouTube.

In her (temporary) farewell video, Lilly touched on some pertinent issues for YouTubers - the physical exhaustion of having to constantly create videos: "I am mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted" and the frustration of trying to decipher what exactly the YouTube platform, and audience, even want these days.

In short, she admits that she burned out.

What is 'burnout'?

'Burnout' is a loose term applied to YouTube creators (although it's really relevant to anyone doing any job or task) who work themselves too hard and then find themselves worn out both mentally and creatively.

This is a symptom of the spirit of constant escalation that has become an epidemic on YouTube. I spoke about this previously with regard to the trend of YouTubers doing more and more dangerous things to get views, which lead to a YouTuber being killed.

In the age of Jake Paul, YouTubers are suddenly finding that the only way they can stay 'relevant' in the eyes of viewers is to produce videos at a ridiculous rate.

Daily videos are the norm now, most viewers want a video a day or more than one channel - and a certain type of YouTuber has absolutely dominated this new format, to the detriment of more slow, considered video creation.

Lilly even admits this in her video, alluding to "a group of people" who have found "something that works for them" on YouTube. She says she can't hold that against them, it clearly works.

Videos are not made by machines (though sometimes I'm not sure). They're made my people - normal, mortal, fleshy people who feel hungry and tired and bored like the rest of us. And if a human gives themselves over to the whim of the Almighty Algorithm, they will only fall apart.

It's not a new problem

YouTubers suffering from burnout is far from new. This has been a consistent issue since the concept of a 'YouTuber' first materialised.

Elle Mills is one of the most prominent YouTubers who has spoken out about this. She posted a very frank and honest video in which she revealed what it's like to be totally drained at the age of only 19.

Like Lilly, she had been finding herself on a constant quest to not only top her own work, but the work of countless others. It got to her in the end.

"Who cares about YouTubers!" I hear you screaming into your screen. "They're all rich!! There's bigger problems in the world!!" etc etc etc.

You can yell what you want, but the bottom line is that if you want YouTube videos you need people to make them, and if making them has an inevitable time limit at which point people collapse in on themselves, that's not a good thing. This is a problem that affects anyone who has ever had a passing interest in YouTube videos.

So what's the solution?

Well Lilly sort of nailed the answer without necessarily realising it. The answer seems to be reassessing what 'success' on YouTube really means - and it will be different for every individual creator.

Lilly makes it clear that she doesn't just want to be a mindless video machine "pumping out a bunch of content, trying to figure out how YouTube works... I don't want to do that."

Creators have to ask what fulfills them when making videos. Lilly has a veritable army of people around the world who adore the things she makes. She doesn't need the approval of random strangers on the curséd trending page. As Lilly pithily puts it: "Happiness is the most important thing you can ever fight for - relevance is not".

Also it would be good if YouTube would stop demonetising harmless video content so that you YouTubers were able to make somewhat of an actual living off the site and not be forced into a quantity not quality approach BUT HEY, YA CAN'T HAVE EVERYTHING IN LIFE.