Thoughts From the Social Internet
Updated: Jul 22, 2020
I had spent the summer before my freshman year of high school indoctrinating myself with the "vlogger" culture that was booming at the time - that had had about four years to make itself into the cultural moment in which I "discovered" it. I had, surely, seen content from these creators before - the most viral were familiar, I recognized faces, I had a rudimentary understanding of how YouTube worked, etc. But, it was that summer where I really took the plunge into YouTube culture and its community as being a fundamental part of my identity.
As the school year started, I was (I believe) the only freshman in my Geometry class (I imagine this could be chalked up to the fact that I had a relatively strange schedule that year). I wasn't so much intimidated by the older students as much as there was a bit of a cultural barrier in which I did not really know how the culture of the school worked, and a math class is not the kind of place that lends itself to interpersonal communication in the same way that other subjects might. There were, though, some small moments of down time in which it would have been emotionally exhausting to not speak to anyone, so, after a few weeks, I eventually complimented a "DFTBA" drawing the girl next to me in class had on the front of her binder.
She asked me if I would sign up to join the "Nerdfighteria" club she and some of her friends were starting and I, with an at the time vague idea of what that word meant, said yes. The next time we had that class she informed me that the club was going to be made official by our school, and I felt obligated to attend after presenting myself as an insider to the community. Which, compared to other people, I was! I knew that "DFTBA" stood for "Don't Forget to be Awesome" and that a "Nerdfighter" was a fan of Hank and John Green - the Vlogbrothers - on YouTube, which was far more than the average high school freshman. I did, however, watch about a month or so of backlogged Vlogbrothers content to make sure I sounded like I knew what I was talking about beyond my notion at the time that Hank and John were the "fun dads" of YouTube.
By the time I was half way through my club meeting, I realized that I liked the people I had accidentally surrounded myself with. We talked about how excited we were for John's upcoming novel that we only ever referred to as "TFiOS" (tiff-e-os), which I don't think any of us had expected to turn into The Fault in Our Stars, but, it did. I went home that night and went all the way back to the first page of the Vlogbrothers YouTube channel, and began what at the time felt unthinkable. I went back and watched every single video on the Vlogbrothers channel. Every one. I was determined to understand every reference and joke. I would have an encyclopedic knowledge of "puppy sized elephants", "giraffe love", "the Yeti" and "the Katherine" I downloaded all of Hank's albums (I will say that prior to all of this I do believe that I saw "Accio Deathly Hallows" on YouTube the very day on which it dropped), read all of John's books (outside of Let it Snow? I still do not know why that one slipped through the cracks), read all of Maureen Johnson's books (again, outside of Let it Snow, which I have still not even watched the movie adaptation of). I bought a "Pizza John" t-shirt. I would, before my family had unlimited data or I had a smartphone, download Vlogbrothers videos from YouTube onto my computer from a website that I can only now be grateful never gave me a computer virus, so that I could watch four-minute video after four-minute video in the back of the car on long car rides. And, eventually, I did it - I caught up.
Then became a high school career of watching a new video every Tuesday and Friday. Our Nerdfighteria Club spent most of the year raising money for the Project for Awesome (a charity drive that happens every year), and when the campaign came around we made our own P4A video. We spent a ludicrous amount of time trying to "positively prank" every student at the school. We had fun! And, I think at least, made our corner of the world just a little bit better. And I can't be mad about that.
Most of the initial club graduated after my sophomore year, but after the success of The Fault in Our Stars it became easier to attract students (I will say, however, that though there were more of them the quality of club members did take a dip). I tried through my two years as president to maintain the original ethos of the club, but there was only so much I could do. But I still loved it! I still loved the Green brothers and my Tuesdays and Fridays were always a little bit better because of their videos. It helped, too, that I had a huge online community to fall back on even when the "irl" club felt more taxing than fulfilling - my tumblr archive will attest to the value I found in online community during that time.
Then it was time for me to pack up my life for New York City. A freshman once again, I had selected a small school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where I would be pursuing a degree in Producing and Stage Management - I'd never felt closer to achieving my dreams. I never hid my love of Nerfighteria around my college peers, but it became clear to me that there was not an existing community of Vlogbrothers fans on this campus in the way there was at my high school. It was less than a year after the TFiOS movie had come out and hating on John Green and his understanding of the teen psyche was all the rage. It didn't really bother me, I had had three years to legitimately and complexly dissect the book with people who actually cared about it, but being a Nerdfighter wasn't really in vogue. Less than a month into school, I shut down my tumblr as I was realizing how detrimental it was becoming to my mental and social health. Without a real-life or online community to talk about my love of the Vlogbrothers with, it became harder and harder to find a mere eight minutes a week to dedicate to watching new content (even as the norm for YouTube started to become 10-15 minute videos from other creators). When second semester came around, my Pizza John shirt ended up staying at home in California.
It was not a conscious uncoupling, by any means. I still had a deep amount of love and respect for the Green brothers and the friendships they had brought me - online and off. I was not any less of a nerd in college than I had been in high school, and I wasn't trying to make it look otherwise. With no sense of community, though, it got harder to find the time.
It was weird when things happened to the brothers and I learned about them via tweets rather than by videos - I remember being thrilled for Hank when his son was born, and shedding just a bit of a tear when I learned that John's dog's heath was deteriorating. When I was a Junior in college and studying abroad in London, I remember being at the mall the day Turtles all the Way Down was released. I was about a year into a vow I'd made with myself that I would no longer be reading books by straight, white, men (that were not assigned to me in class or otherwise in-ignorable-y relevant), but I couldn't stop myself from picking it up and devouring it within a couple of hours in a way that I honestly had not consumed a book since I was in high school. In the middle of a very hard school year for me, TATWD came to me in a moment in which I needed to find it - even if John did decide to give a very-flawed-and-not-in-the-fun-protagonist-way character my name.
Turtles all the Way Down found me in a moment in which I needed it, in the same way that a lot of Vlogbrothers content had before it. I have found that feeling countless more times with John Green's online book club "Life's Library", of which I have been a member since the beginning. Often when I am thinking about the Vlogbrothers I find myself thinking about the thesis of "Easy A" in which Emma Stone's character tells us that whatever we're assigned in high school is somehow exactly what we need to be reading and is, inexplicably, linked with our current perception of our own reality in a way that makes us think that only we can understand what the book actually means. This is how I feel not only about the books that John and his co-curator of the Life's Library, Rosianna, have "assigned" me over the past year and a half, but also how I have felt about Nerdfighteria as a broader idea. In the same way that stories have "found" me in the moments in which only I can understand them, so has this community.
I have been feeling that "understanding" again in the middle of this pandemic. With all the additional hours of social media finding their way into my day as a result of the monotony that is the pandemic, Hank and John's content has been worming its way to the tops of my social feeds. One day I woke up and thought "I've watched four years of their content before, why not do it again?" so I am. As of writing this, I have less than a year of Vlogbrothers content to catch up on. I bought both of Hank's books and am finally getting around to watching the Looking for Alaska Hulu series. Mostly, though, I have been unable to ignore the plot of John's departure from what he calls "the social internet". He has put into language what I had not previously been able to by calling social media an itch that can only scratch itself. In the same way that I knew I had to cut myself off of tumblr all those years ago, I am coming to terms with a reckoning that my existing relationship with Facebook/Instagram/Twitter and their refreshable feeds is unhealthy and unhelpful. I don't know how I will let go of these patterns I have created for myself without feeling the constant itch that I may be missing out on something, but I know I need to find a way to try.
This is, mostly, a public "thank you" to John and Hank. To Hank for being an example of the fact that I can have all the different jobs I think I want to have and, with enough work, passion, and tenacity do them exceptionally. To John for being the vocal cadence my brain adopts when I catch myself taking my internal monologue perhaps too seriously, but perhaps just seriously enough. And to both of the Vlogbrothers for the books, videos, songs, and everything else that have found me when I needed them to and have made me feel seen and inspired. Thank you.