Last week, Louise Pentland (can’t get enough of her) revealed in a video she was pregnant for the second time. They say rumours spread like fire, but so did all-around positivity after her announcement. Viewers, followers, and fans alike commented on how happy they are for her. Even I found myself smiling with glee while watching this particular video. But did that smile come from fandom, insanity, or is it simply a prime example of so-called ‘para-social interaction’?
Regular pregnancy announcements are private. You only tell your social environment (friends, family) and some others (such as your boss) for practical reasons. In these situations, you might be able to predict how these people would react and what next steps to take. YouTube, however, creates a whole new dimension with regard to this situation.
In Louise’s case, she has had the opinions on this matter of at least 2.5 million people (the number of people subscribed to the channel she posted the video on) forced onto her. While she in no way is obliged to share personal information like this with viewers, she decided to do so. Why? Perhaps because of the special relationship that the YouTube community offers.
Have you caught PSI?
YouTubers come in all shapes and sizes, but the one thing they have in common is they have an audience. Whether it consists of two or two thousand people, this audience gets to know the content creator over time. Especially (daily) vloggers have the tendency to share a fair bit about their daily lives, making it likely that people feel a certain bond between themselves and the person on their screen.
Para-social interaction (PSI) is based on this and best described as a relationship in which viewers feel like they have a certain relationship to the person they’re watching. In a way, it’s a one-sided relationship. Viewers see YouTubers as friends, while the latter almost likely do not know of their existence (apart from the +1 subscriber count, perhaps).
Sailing alone on the friend ship?
Although essentially there’s nothing wrong with this para-social interaction (maybe I’m just saying this just to cover myself), there’s ways in which it can be troublesome. This is particularly relevant from the perspective of YouTubers. Imagine how weird it would be if someone you’ve never met, or even seen, walks up to you, hugs you, and tells you how happy they are for your recent promotion at work. Say what?
In this situation, there’s two sides to the story. On the one hand, there’s someone bombarded with intimacy from someone they don’t know in the slightest. And then there’s the person who feels strongly connected to someone, even though they don’t actually know each other. This feeling of friendship may sound strange, but in reality, it actually isn’t unusual.
I must admit to wiping away a tear during Louise’s pregnancy announcements to friends
YouTubers share many personal and intimate moments on camera, for example post break-up stories and mental breakdowns. Moments that you’d usually only share with (close) friends are now out in the open, available to everyone. Viewers like me are sucked into their lives through seemingly authentic moments like these. I must even admit to wiping away a tear during Louise’s pregnancy announcements to friends.
It may sound strange, but the voyeuristic act of watching people’s lives unravel for years on end makes you feel close to them. Even if you’ve never met, there’s a certain relationship. One-sided as it may be, watch vlogs of someone for a week and try not feeling connected.