Like any sane person, I used to balk at the idea of watching a YouTube video that was more than five minutes long. But I’ve changed my tune in recent years. Not only will I happily click on a video that’s 15 minutes long, I actively look forward to watching videos that are 20, 30, even 45 minutes long. Have I lost my mind? Perhaps. But more tangibly, I’ve been introduced to the world of YouTube daily vlogging.
A lot of terminology is still imprecise in the ever-evolving world of YouTube content, but “daily vlogging”—or “day-in-the-life-style vlogging”—is, quite simply, when someone films the events of their day, then posts it on the internet for others to watch. More traditional YouTube videos (which, confusingly, are also called vlogs, short for “video blogs”) tend to be framed to look like a professional Skype interview; in contrast, a daily vlog looks like a casual FaceTime call you’d make while out running errands. The vlogger captures whatever they’re up to throughout the day—from making breakfast to shopping at Target to attending a glamorous YouTube gala. Along the way, they chat into the lens, offering context or funny stories or musings on life. If you’re asking, “Who would want to watch that?” consider Casey Neistat, currently the biggest name in daily vlogging with more than 7 million subscribers. Neistat didn’t invent the genre, but he’s generally credited with revolutionizing its aesthetic with his artsy shots and glossy time lapses, as well as an earnest bad-boy attitude that’s since been copied by dozens of other vloggers.
It’s easy to dismiss all this as the height of 21st-century vanity. After all, these are regular people turning themselves into celebrities through sheer force of will—the Kardashian-ification of culture, if you will. But that blanket derision misses out on some of the nuances of the daily vlogging genre. Unlike reality TV, which cuts out the boring stuff to squeeze in as much heightened drama as possible, daily vlogs revel in the mundane aspects of life. These vloggers don’t just capture their most exciting days. They also capture the days where they do nothing but clean their house and take late-night trips to McDonald’s. There are no plotlines to keep track of or character arcs to follow. There is just the natural ebb and flow of human life. An individual vlog doesn’t even need to have a distinct beginning, middle, and end. It just unfolds until the vlogger decides to sign off. Each vlogging channel is like a miniature Truman Show, filmed and edited by Truman himself.
That self-created quality is key to vlogging’s appeal. Daily vlogging—and indeed YouTube in general—exists in the second person. The conceit is that daily vloggers are bringing you, their “friend,” along with them, speaking directly into the camera in familiar terms like, “You guys love when I vlog stuff like this” or “I have to show you something.” So even when daily vloggers do something more glamorous, like attend a film premiere or take an international vacation, the format gives viewers a glimpse of the awkward reality of those events, rather than the glossily superficial depiction. It’s a uniquely intimate form of voyeurism, more akin to peeking into someone’s medicine cabinet than gawking at a drunken Real Housewife.
YouTuber and Lizzie Bennet Diaries star Mary Kate Wiles tells me she was worried her subscribers would be bored by The Audition Chronicles, in which she documented every single audition and callback she went on for nearly a year and a half until she finally booked a gig. Instead, it quickly became one of the most popular things on her channel. As a fan myself, I’m not at all surprised by its success. It allows a glimpse into the repetitive drudgery, the minor-key triumphs—and failures—that are so inherent to the entertainment industry, yet so rarely on display. You might hear about the grind of auditioning, but you never see what it looks like in practice. By documenting it, unvarnished, Wiles manages to demystify show business and make it relatable.
YouTube is often described as a platform for teens, and while that’s not completely accurate (about half of Wiles’ 24,000 subscribers are 18 to 24 years old), it’s impossible to overemphasize just how ubiquitous YouTube is for the generation coming of age right now. For example, Lindsay, a 13-year-old from Illinois, tells me her go-to icebreaker when meeting people her age is to ask them who their favorite YouTubers are. In interviewing daily vlog fans for this piece, I began to realize that many middle schoolers actually do find vlogs more glamorous than relatable—though in their case, it’s not the glamour of celebrity but of regular old adulthood. After all, when you’re 13, the idea of living on your own, driving yourself to your favorite lunch spot, and spending your evenings hanging out with your friends does feel glamorous, in its own right.
But as these YouTube fans get older, their relationship to the content can shift from aspirational to relatable. Some can even find vlogs helpful in grappling with feelings of social anxiety and general otherness. Sierra, 21, describes it to me this way: ”People go about their whole day assuming that they’re the weirdo, they’re the black sheep, and no one understands how awkward they are. But vlogs are this little slice of life and reality, like, ‘Hey, those thoughts you keep to yourself and think that no one else thinks? We all think these things!’ And that’s really comforting.”
I’m older than both Lindsay and Sierra, but I share their appreciation for how daily vloggers can give you that sort of connection. Right now, my favorites are Anna and Jonathan of SacconeJolys (1.8 million subscribers), who started daily vlogging six years ago when they were a young couple in Ireland. Since then, they’ve gotten married, moved to London, and had three kids—all while documenting almost every single day of their lives on camera.
Outside of a family member, partner, or close friend, it’s unheard of to have that much access to another person’s life. I’ve seen Anna go through multiple pregnancies, as well as literally give birth to all three of her children. I know what foods the kids like and don’t like, what cities her family vacations in, how their house is laid out, and what Jonathan orders at Starbucks. The casual yet intimate nature of the vlogging format means the videos will sometimes shift from something inane, like the kids playing dress-up, to Jonathan discussing his struggles with depression or Anna sharing her experience with a miscarriage. And the fact that more often than not the SacconeJolys’ vlogs can be, well, kind of boring is actually incredibly reassuring in an age where carefully cultivated social media feeds can make it seem like everyone else’s life is so much more exciting than your own.
I don’t want to oversell the psychological value of daily vlogs. For all their celebration of everyday life, the videos are carefully filmed and edited in order to create a likable online persona (the SacconeJolys, for instance, only film their kids in happy moments and don’t document tantrums or meltdowns). And even the biggest daily vlog fans I spoke to admitted the medium can feel frivolous and vacuous at times. But if daily vlogs, at their worst, are just an exercise in narcissism, at their best they offer a unique documentation of the human experience, in all its recognizably little quirks. They’re a reminder that people live multifaceted lives, that no one looks glamorous 24/7, and that plenty of people are dealing with insecurities or issues beneath their put-together exteriors. And in that way, they help us to feel just a little less alone.