I was talking with a friend about how I’ve noticed that my children aren’t as interested in narrative fiction as I was at their age, and they’re more interested in YouTube stuff. A lot of it is educational in one form or another, though some of it is also a discussion of fiction. He made the point that YouTube has a heavily para-social component to it, and while that’s true, I do think that it’s more about the incredible specificity of topic possible on YouTube.
In thinking about that conversation later, it occurred to me that Television has always been para-social, though, even the narrative stuff. There is probably a more para-social component to non-narrative programming, which might be why shut-ins are more likely to watch the news. However, narrative TV was also para-social. We grew fond of the people on TV.
I suspect that the para-social aspect was especially responsible for the boom in family-based shows (and, more generally, domestic shows) like sitcoms in the 1980s. Though it certainly applies all over.
And come to think of it, there was a joke about the para-social nature of old time radio programs in an episode of Hogan’s Heroes. Someone had to break the bad news to Carter that the bank foreclosed on Mary Noble, Backstage Wife and Carter almost broke down in tears.
This raises the interesting question of why does YouTube work better for para-social video? I suspect that the answer is the vastly lowered production costs mean that it can be worth it to do YouTube videos for much smaller audiences, which means that they can be far more specific, and so the match with the much smaller audience is much better.