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A Breakdown Of The Most Millennial New York Times Column I’ve Ever Read

A Breakdown Of The Most Millennial New York Times Column I've Ever Read

There’s a reason you’ve seen major media companies laying off their writers in favor of a video team over the last few months. Much like no one reads newspapers anymore, we’re all too lazy to read anything more than a 140-character tweet, and even then you probably scroll right past most of the important stuff. But video is the new wave, whether we want to admit it or not.

Unfortunately, the internet can turn even the worst types of people into celebrities. Case in point: this entire column published by The New York Times about influencers who hire video teams to follow their every move.

Presented with commentary, all original text is in block quotes. I’m sorry for what you’re about to endure.

* * *

Keeping Up, on Camera, Is No Longer Just for the Kardashians

 

“How can we take this already insufferable piece of online content and make it even more insufferable?” someone in The New York Times situation room asked. “Ah, I got it! Let’s make a Kardashian pun… in the title.”

*The entire room proceeds to stand up and clap before collectively sitting down and returning to their phones where they wait for Trump to tweet so they can try to be the first to respond with links to their own columns.*

This spring, John Henry, a 24-year-old entrepreneur and the founder of a Harlem-based nonprofit, had a very strange first date. The woman he had taken to a SoHo restaurant seemed to know a suspicious amount about the places he’d been in recent weeks and the conversations he’d had. This, Mr. Henry slowly realized, was a byproduct of his recent decision to have a videographer film large swaths of his daily life: his work, travels, lunches and even subway commutes, which Mr. Henry had then posted on Facebook and Instagram.

So you’re going to sit here and tell me that this dude with two first names went on a date with someone who knew his whole life story, but still wondered how she knew his entire history despite the fact that he records every waking moment of his life? Man, that’s wild. It’s almost as if hiring a videographer to record your everyday life so you can put it all on Instagram would allow people to watch everything you do. Crazy how that works.

“It removed so much of the humanity of the conversation, because my life is just a big piece of content now,” he said. “There was literally no element of surprise.”

There’s being millennial scum, and then there’s referring to your existence as “just a big piece of content.” I’m going to say that again: this man just referred to his life – his existence, his time on this earth, every part as his being – as “just a big piece of content.”

I’d say that we should put that on his grave stone, but we’re insane if we think his grave stone will be anything but a four-foot tall iPad with a video of him welcoming you to his lifeless body on loop.

Digital self-promotion has gone to a new extreme. Perhaps taking a cue from Beyoncé, who has famously recorded almost every single moment of her waking life, Mr. Henry is one of a small but growing number of entrepreneurs who have turned their lives into do-it-yourself reality shows. They pay videographers, editors and producers thousands of dollars a month to shadow them and create content for their social media platforms. They “star” as part motivational speaker, part life coach, as they dispense advice and speak enthusiastically about the hustle. They are earnest to a fault; you’ll find no melodrama here (or even much drama).

Here’s a hint I’ve learned along the way in this big piece of content that I kindly refer to as “my life” – do not take advice from a dude who pays thousands of dollars a month for people to shadow him so he can put it on Instagram. It takes a special type of person to want to be on reality television (I’m talking about Fake Cheeks Bryan-types on The Bachelorette), but it takes an even more special type of person to record themselves riding the subway pretending they’re Beyoncé.

But people are watching, sometimes in the hundreds of thousands. “The reach is incredible,” Mr. Henry said. “It’s mind-blowing to me that a regular person can reach a quarter of a million people a month if they put the work in.”

And what’s more mind-blowing is that a quarter million people a month are watching this self-absorbed Gen-Y tool eat his lunch and go from point-A to point-B. Yes, I watched Katy Perry’s 24-hour live stream for an afternoon at work, but she was doing yoga and listening to her new album. All this guy does is get videotaped while checking his Elite Daily app.

Despite the self-promotional nature of this phenomenon, most of these workaday video protagonists claim altruistic reasons for putting their lives under the microscope.

I’m going to define “altruistic,” not because I don’t know what it means but because I’m 99 percent sure that 1. this writer doesn’t know what it means and 2. Two First Names doesn’t know what it means.

“Showing a disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others; unselfish.”

You can’t claim to be unselfish when you’re literally paying people to record every bite of your bagel that you take. That is, by definition, the most selfish and self-absorbed thing someone could possibly do. That’s like Kylie Jenner saying she creates lip kits so help those who are faced with a life sans pouty lips. No, she’s creating them because she wants to get fucking rich.

“I wanted to step up as a role model,” said Gerard Adams, 32, a founder of the website Elite Daily who calls himself the “Millennial Mentor,” a title he has trademarked. “I had to overcome a lot of failure and challenges.” Three videographers take turns filming Mr. Adams at his New Jersey-based business incubator, at the gym, and with his family and friends.

It takes a special type of person to refer to themselves as a “Millennial Mentor,” but it takes the absolute worst type of person to TRADEMARK THAT TITLE.

And just a heads up to anyone who might consider this guy as their mentor (and may God have mercy on your soul): don’t take advice from a guy who founded a website that has done the following:

– Published columns by writers who aren’t, and never have been, employed by their site.
– Compared aging women to “stale bread.”
– Served Daily Mail a $31 million loss after it’s initial sale to them.

Patrick Bet-David, 38, the chief executive of an insurance company, said he wanted “people to see that you can have a wife and kids, and work out, and stay healthy and manage a business. You can pull it off.”

Wow, super noble of Patrick Bet-David to show everyone that can something as spectacular as that. Remember when people used to do exactly that before the internet existed? Back then, though, rather than being called an “influencer,” it was simply called “being a functioning member of society.”

Just over a third of Mr. Bet-David’s life is captured on camera for his YouTube channel, Valuetainment. He was interviewed for this article over the phone at a restaurant in Dallas, where he was having lunch. As usual, his director of film production, Paul Escarcega, was there, too. Mr. Escarcega used two different cameras — one stationary, one hand-held — to shoot the call. (Of course, the audio only picked up Mr. Bet-David’s side of the conversation.)

Valuetainment. I… no, we have to move on.

I love the altruism of recording an entire phone call interview, but caring so little about the other party that you solely get the audio and video of yourself rather than anyone else involved. So generous.

“You never know when you could be having a conversation that naturally leads to something that brings value to somebody watching,” Mr. Bet-David said. “You try to catch all the moments.”

I would love for someone to catch the moment where someone dumps a can of paint on his head while spewing some millennial bullshit on his YouTube channel. You’re an insurance salesman, dude. Just fucking sell insurance. I’m not sure why, but I just feel like there’s a very good chance that this dude owns more than one pair of white Oakleys.

Cy Wakeman, 52, the chief executive of a human resources and leadership development company called Reality-Based Leadership, which teaches employees how to “ditch the drama,” is convinced there are professional benefits of having a video team follow her around Omaha, where she lives, to conferences across the country and on vacations to places like Tulum, Mexico.

I should’ve known that we couldn’t make it through this entire column without a Tulum reference. Going to Tulum is the millennial equivalent of buying that shirt from J. Crew that everyone had in the early 2010s. Yes, the navy and white checkered one that still somehow pops up at parties on dudes who wear relaxed fit jeans.

“If people are distracted at work on their phones, I want to be their distraction,” Ms. Wakeman said.

“If the downfall of society is the fact that everyone spends more time looking at their phones than they do interacting with other human beings, I want to be the reason for that downfall.” – Ms. Wakeman, probably.

Saying “I want to be their distraction” goes against every piece of altruistic bullshit that was spewed on us just paragraphs ago. If you can’t tell, I hate everything.

Ms. Wakeman said that her company had received significantly more business since a video team began following her in February, and that there had been a bump in preorders for her coming book, “No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement, and Drive Big Results.”

I just spit out my matcha tea onto my MacBook Air while listening to an NPR podcast, and somehow the paragraph you just read is more millennial than I am.

Hiring an entire glam squad to follow you around only to call your book “No Ego” is simply diabolical. Outrageously out of this world. I’m no business expert, but I’m pretty sure “workplace drama” and “entitlement” would completely diminish if you didn’t have a Real World-esque setup in your headquarters.

“It’s no longer just about promoting their company,” said Karen North, director of digital social media and clinical professor of communication at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. “It’s about promoting themselves as the star of their company.”

I know, I know, I want bad things to happen to these people too but let’s be altruistic here. We can’t be mad at Karen North for that shittily shitty quote that just barfed out of her mouth. She’s just the messenger here.

How would it make you feel if your CEO didn’t care about the company as much as they cared about being the star of the company? Sure, sales are stagnant and the company’s culture is fucked because Karen keeps filing HR complaints after getting hit in the head with a mic boom, but the CEO is the star!

A piece of advice for these altruistic dumbasses: be the CEO who’s willing to help sweep the floor when there’s a mess, not the CEO who takes a selfie with the unpaid intern who’s doing it for them.

Dr. North said the psychological strategy was quite clever. “The real sea change of digital is that it makes everything personal,” she said, adding that individuals like Ms. Wakeman could “talk to you through Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and you feel as if they’re talking to you personally.” And if they engage with even a few people in the comments or retweet what their followers say, Dr. North said that “every individual feels validated.”

I don’t feel validated when I see these inspirational speakers skip down the street to a Chainsmokers remix. I feel hatred in my heart that I didn’t know I was capable of feeling. The last thing I need is some Justin Bieber-looking faux-CEO telling me how to live my life while he sits on the toilet taking a shit and recording it from his iPad Pro.

Ms. Wakeman’s most recent videos are filmed and produced by VaynerTalent, a division of the company VaynerMedia, whose chief executive, Gary Vaynerchuk, is largely credited for starting the full-time videographer trend. Since 2015, a videographer has followed Mr. Vaynerchuk everywhere, at least five days a week, for a docuseries called DailyVee. He receives roughly 40 million views a month across his social channels.

Gary Vaynerchuk, while successful, is also the annoying kid from your high school class who looked like he was about to OD on ADD meds in between doing a hundred pull-ups during those once-a-year physical fitness tests. If there’s one person who’s willing to piss down your boot and tell you it’s rain, it’s him.

And yes, he’s really rich and successful, but that’s also kind of an excuse to hate him even more.

Hiring a full-time — or even part-time — camera and production crew isn’t cheap. Adam Hamwey, who shoots and produces content for Mr. Henry, said that daily rates ranged from $300 to $500. Mr. Adams said he pays six figures annually for his three-person team. VaynerTalent offers packages starting at $25,000 a month. They work with clients who want a comprehensive personal brand strategy, which means you’re not simply hiring a videographer and producer but also a growth hacker, media strategist and analytics expert. Ms. Wakeman, for instance, has a team of seven people.

I can’t tell if this is real life or if I’m in some sort of Black MirrorTruman Show hybrid where everyone around me is seeing how truly terrible they can be. I’d be six figures a year to make sure there were no cameras in my face ever again, and meanwhile, these idiots have someone called a “growth hacker” on their payroll.

But that’s just a small price to pay to be altruistic.

[via The New York Times]

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Will

Will deFries (Twitter / Instagram) is a Senior Writer at Grandex and the world's foremost authority on Sunday Scaries (Twitter / Instagram). Email me at will@grandex.co.

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