Freddie Wong is feeling old.
“I did not know until two days ago,” he says, “that Netflix and chill was a euphemism. I thought we were just gonna watch Netflix and not do anything else. I was okay with that.
“Do I need someone to help me out here? To help me keep up with this stuff?”
Freddie Wong is feeling old, but Freddie Wong is not actually old. In fact, Freddie Wong just turned 30. In most of life’s endeavours Freddie might rank as a youngster, or a man in the prime of his professional life. But Freddie Wong doesn’t have a normal job. Freddie is famous, primarily, for being a YouTuber celebrity. Freddie Wong exists in an an alternate universe that measures in dog years, Freddie Wong might as well be 100 years old.
And he’s been around. He’s been doing this YouTube thing for a while. Freddie Wong’s YouTuber channel RocketJump started life in February 2006, roughly a year after YouTube was even a thing. Since then his channel has racked up 7.7 million subscribers and a ludicrous 1.25 billion views and he’s got plenty of interesting things to say about these pesky youngsters coming onto his territory.
“It’s weird,” he says. “It’s strange. And I think the rate at which you feel old is gonna get faster and faster.
“The internet goes on and on at a pace that is dizzying sometimes.”
YouTube has changed.
The current king of YouTube: PewDiePie. A Swedish man who makes a healthy living from playing video games while others watch. It’s a relatively new phenomenon, and one that didn’t exist when Freddie Wong launched his channel, a channel that focuses on a far more traditional type of video content.
“It’s funny because we’re YouTube folk but we’re not really YouTube folk,” he admits.
“We’re not really a YouTube company and we’re not really a traditional media company. We hit this weird middle ground. The time when we came in I think the big distinguishing factor was there was really no money in this whole thing.”
There was no money. Now there is so much money.
“The idea of a high schooler making videos and making more money playing video games on their Twitch stream or Youtube channel then their parents is a thing that happens now. To be a kid in high school and have millions of fans is a thing that happens now. It blows my mind. When I was kid I’d make movies, but we’d play them at the school assembly and the people who showed up would be the only ones who ever saw it.
“It’s not just Youtube, it’s Snapchat, it’s instagram. The idea of fame and fortune is now linked with these platforms. I don’t think it’s possible to talk about expressing yourself online without the potential of fame and riches being thrown in there.”
Does that change things? Probably. But as YouTube fragments and expands like a rapidly evolving platform is supposed to, people still want a certain type of content. They don’t just want to the one thing that is in fashion right this very second.
That’s partly why Freddie and Rocket Jump still do the narrative thing. They still create video ‘content’. They build character, they tell stories. In 2015 that may feel old-fashioned in terms of what YouTube is and what YouTube has become, but that’s what’s worked for Freddie and that’s what he want to continue doing.
“The platforms change, the shape of things change, where you watch changes,” explains Freddie. “You’re never gonna get in front of it. But certain things don’t change: stories told well, the human experience.
“At the end of the day, people react to story and character in the same way they always have. In the end that impulse and desire to serve that. It’s the same impulse. That’s what we try to focus on. What’s interesting right now? That’s how it should be — focusing on making something good.”
What’s happening on YouTube, believes Freddie, is actually all part of what should happen when a new medium is invented. At first we use the new medium to do what we once did, with bells and whistles, or with increased speed and efficiency. That’s sorta what Freddie does, he admits, but it’s timeless.
The let’s plays and the PewDiePies of the world? That’s part of the evolution. That the sound of a brand new medium in the process of discovering what makes it unique.
“We always look at new platforms through the lens of older platforms,” says Freddie. “When we first made cameras our first thought was to use that medium through the lens of drama and theatre, so the first movies were essentially cameras set up to record stage plays. It wasn’t until later we were able to take advantage of what this new medium affords and start experimenting with this form in meaningful ways. We’re starting to see that now on YouTube.
“We haven’t seen the best of what YouTube has to offer. And you won’t be able to predict what the best might look like.”
Freddie Wong is coming to RTX Australia on January 23-24, 2016. He plans to learn to surf while he is here. But worries that he is too old to start learning. You can find out more about RTX Australia here.