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“I feel like I’ve been robbed”: inside HelloWorld, the YouTuber event that left parents furious

An event for YouTube fans was billed with the words “nothing like this has ever been done before”. Angry parents agree.

Initially, Darren Day told his 12-year-old daughter Macy that the family couldn’t afford to go to HelloWorld. Billed as an “immersive live experience”, the two-day event was going to be a place for young fans to see their YouTube heroes in the flesh, enjoy carnival rides, listen to live music, and play games. When Day was given the opportunity to do overtime at work, he jumped at the chance. He eventually spent “just short of a week’s wages” to attend the mini-festival.

“I was almost brought to tears looking at the disappointment on Macy’s face,” he says now, two days after the event.

When Day and his family arrived at Birmingham Genting Arena for HelloWorld, they were almost instantly disappointed. “I feel like I’ve actively been ripped off, I really do,” says the 48-year-old, who paid £171 for three tickets. He is not alone. Peter Preston, a 41-year-old from Bradford, paid over £200 to take his daughter and a friend to HelloWorld for her 13th birthday.

“It became apparent after about five minutes there was absolutely nothing to do,” he says, “You could genuinely see parents in the middle of the room standing around going ‘what on earth are we going to do?’” Preston says the advertised carnival rides weren’t there, and some stages and sets were completely empty of stars. He says a giant arcade game intended for the children to play on was broken.

“Every so often you’d hear a cheer and there’d be hundreds of stampeding children running across the hall,” says Preston, describing children “falling and tripping up” when YouTube stars emerged into the arena. “By the time most of them had got to the person, whoever it was, they had gone.”

Via Peter Preston

HelloWorld was supposed to be different. Over the past decade, YouTube meet-ups have become difficult to manage, with stars needing greater and greater security to talk with their millions of viewers. “We wanted to avoid a standard meet-and-greet scenario where you guys queue for ages,” said YouTuber Jim Chapman on the event’s official website, explaining that the arena would have a “Main Street” of stalls and activities. “You can play games with us, you can do activities with us, we might even get to collaborate.”

Kelly Jones and her 11-year-old daughter Madeline queued for two hours in order to meet YouTube superstar Zoella. “There were a lot of queues and people stood in them because they didn’t know what to do,” Jones says. She and her daughter waited outside Zoella’s “winter wonderland” area, but when they were finally let in, they realised the vlogger wasn’t there. “It was a disgrace, we were being completely exploited,” says Jones. “I stood up to this guy [who worked there] and said ‘You’re sending us in after two hours to look at fake trees?’.”

Jo Harris, a 48-year-old from Bristol who took her 14-year-old daughter Lucy to the event, experienced the same thing. “We’d just stood there queuing, in a crush, for twenty minutes… that was very frustrating,” she says. Harris, who uses crutches, was also disappointed at the lack of disability access at the event.

Since they first announced the event, the team behind HelloWorld were clear the festival was “not a meet and greet”. Yet although ticket-buyers knew there was no guarantee they’d meet YouTube stars for photographs or autographs, Chapman’s video made the possibilities for interaction sound endless. “Along Main Street you might bump into a YouTuber or two,” he said at one point. Then, later in the video: “Maybe we’ll film something together, who knows?”

Sixteen-year-old Abigail Barlow spent £114 of her wages to buy HelloWorld tickets for herself and her younger sister. After earning the money working part time in a hotel, Barlow was amazed when she first entered the arena on Sunday. “It looked amazing,” she says, explaining that she rushed to Zoella’s area, just like Jones and her daughter. “There was a queue there and they blocked it off, so we couldn’t get in.

“Jim Chapman said there would be no queuing, YouTubers would just be walking around, which they weren’t, they were just stood in the corner occasionally,” she says. “It was definitely made out to be something that it wasn’t.” When asked if she regrets spending money on the event, she says “yeah, 100 per cent.”

Olivia Blanch spent over £560 in total to attend HelloWorld. The 44-year-old from Dublin flew over with her 14-year-old daughter Tara, and spent £226 on two VIP tickets. For the price, the family were able to meet and get a photograph with YouTuber Joe Sugg, and got a goodie bag featuring a T-shirt, bath bomb, face mask, and lanyard.

“Had she have not got her photograph with Joe Sugg, it would’ve been a total and utter disaster,” says Blanch. She says Tara spent her own money to buy Sugg a gift, but was ushered away from him almost immediately after she handed it over. “You literally got 20 seconds, get your photograph taken and get out.”

Not everyone disliked HelloWorld. The event’s official Facebook page shows it has been rated 2.4 out of five stars by attendees, and many children on Twitter are happily posting selfies with their favourite YouTubers. Every parent I spoke to praises the event’s security, which they describe as very thorough. Perhaps this illustrates best the differing viewpoints of parents and children, as many now disagree about the event. While parents feel ripped off, young fans staunchly defend their favourite stars. One woman who posted a negative review on the Facebook page said she couldn’t speak to me as it would upset her daughter.

“I will continue to line Zoella’s pockets even though she let my daughter down so very badly,” reads a complaint letter from Julia Maunders, a 34-year-old mother from South Wales. “I however have a very different view to my daughter and there is no question in my mind that my daughter and other children were exploited during this shambles of an event for their money.”

Kelly Jones’ daughter, Madeline, has now changed her mind about YouTubers. “She actually said to me, ‘Mummy, I don’t want any more of their stuff because I feel they just want our money’. She’s 11, and I never put that in her head, I never said any of that,” says Jones. Conversely, Harris tells me her daughter wants to praise one particular YouTuber, Oli White. “He was on the stage two or three times a day, he seemed to do a good job and he was quite a main part of the show, so she was pleased with him.”

Each day of HelloWorld ended with a live show. Promised as a two hour performance by YouTube’s biggest stars, Saturday night’s event ran at one and a half hours. The expected “House Party to end all House Parties*” after the event never happened – though on this, HelloWorld had been clear. “*Subject to change,” announced an asterisk on its site.

 

A post shared by HelloWorld (@helloworldlive) on

Again, many teens enjoyed the show, including 16-year-old Barlow. Parents, however, express concerns that YouTuber KSI rapped swear words, and many YouTubers joked about death and sex. In particular, parents and children alike were upset that their favourite star, Zoella, only appeared on stage for three minutes.

“Hi Jayne! There are some people who feel really comfortable being on a stage in front of thousands of people, however I am not one of them & was never scheduled to be on the main stage for a ‘segment’ on my own!” Zoella tweeted this weekend to a disappointed fan. Day, the man who worked overtime to take his 12-year-old daughter to the event, is sympathetic to Zoella’s anxiety but wishes the promotional material had advertised this fact.

“If you look at all of the advertising that’s anything to do with it, Zoella and Joe Sugg are at the top of the list all of the time… they really sold the show. Don’t get me wrong if she has anxiety that’s fair enough, but perhaps organising a show where thousands of people are expecting to see you isn’t the best thing.”

When questioned about this and the event’s other issues, a spokesperson for HelloWorld said:

“We at HelloWorld want to let you know that we are really disappointed and very sorry to hear that some fans feel they did not get the experience they were hoping for. It is the fans that help make these shows so great and we always want to ensure that everyone has an amazing time. We really appreciate everyone’s feedback and we are taking everything on board. 

The Hello World event is designed as a new way for fans to see their favourite content creators on stage and a change from the old ‘meet and greet’ style events. The atmosphere at the event was very positive overall and we had venue and event staff on hand to deal in real time with any teething issues on a case-by-case basis. Anyone who has been in touch with our official email address is being responded to on an individual basis and we appreciate fans patience during this process.”

Laura Mcdougal is a 22-year-old from Birmingham who says she got “nothing” from the event. “We paid 60 quid and we got nothing from it, I literally feel like I’ve been robbed,” she says. Many who attended the event were surprised that in order to meet stars, they had to be VIPs or have won wristbands through social media games. Mcdougal’s sister won one of these, which allowed her to attend a Q&A with YouTuber Tyler Oakley.

“It said on the email we’d have a chance to meet [him] and get a photo… but when it finished Tyler got rushed away,” she says. “There were a lot of people with sad looking faces.” Mcdogual says she had nothing to do for “85 per cent” of the time at HelloWorld, and wishes the tickets had been cheaper at £30 or £35. 

One 39-year-old man who wishes to remain anonymous lists everything that went wrong: stars’ sessions lasting just ten minutes, rude security, queuing without being told a star had already left, hour long queues for merchandise, and pick ‘n’ mix costing £2.20 per 100g. But three of the parents I speak to reference one moment as a particular sting.

When vlogger Louise Pentland took to the stage, she opened with a joke. Day paraphrases it as this:

“Hi everyone, thanks for coming. I’ve recently moved, so thank you very much for buying my new house.”

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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Welcome to the Uncanny Valley: how creepy robot dogs are on the rise

It’s hard not to feel a little destabilised after watching a robot’s freakishly long limbs open a door. 

If you’re among those devouring the latest season of Charlie Brooker’s dystopian hellscape Black Mirror, you may still be having metallic nightmares of being chased by the freaky robo-dogs of  “Metalhead”. In which case, you maybe unsettled to know that these nightmares could in theory become a reality (in the distant future), as a viral video from the robotics firm Boston Dynamics (of backflipping robot fame) revealed earlier this week.


Charmingly titled, “Hey Buddy, can you give me a hand?” a SpotMini, Boston Dynamics’ smallest robot, approaches a door and appears to turn sideways before scampering away. Another SpotMini, fitted with an extending claw-arm, opens the door and lets the first robot scamper through, propping it open to follow. 

 

The director of “Metalhead”, David Slade, was inspired by these very demonstrations. As he stated in an interview in January, the inspiration for those robotic villains stemmed from none other than Boston Dynamics itself. “Those fucking Boston Dynamics robots are terrifying, so that in itself was enough that we didn’t have to worry about it,” he told IndieWire. 


Beyond its viral value, the SpotMini marks an interesting stage in the development of artificial intelligence and robotics. Being able to open a door has long since been the bar for the development of modern robots, as Matt Simon of WIRED pointed out. With this bar seemingly met – and surpassed – the questions remains as to what’s next.


Boston Dynamics robots seem designed mostly for academic and research purposes. Previously, DARPA, the research and development wing of the US defence department and arguably the birthplace of modern robotics, rejected some of the robots for usage because they were too loud. Now, though, they’re silent.


Even those who were not Black Mirror fans expressed a sense of unease while watching the Boston Dynamics email. Indeed, it’s hard not to feel a little destabilised after watching a robot’s freakishly long limbs open a door, which was previously the domain of, you know, humans and crafty pets. But such feelings of revulsion could have something to do with Masahiro Mori’s “Uncanny Valley” theory, which he first proposed in the 1970s.


The “uncanny valley” could be defined as the dip in emotional response from humans when interacting with a being that is vaguely humanoid. The theory suggests that robots become more appealing as they draw closer to human characteristics – but only up until a certain point. Once that point has been reached, and surpassed, humans then find those robots “uncanny”. Then, as they resemble us even more closely, we find that we grow less repulsed by them. 

 

 

While the theory has circulated since the 1970s, a 2005 translation of the paper into English made the concepts more widely accessible, and it has been studied by academics ranging from philosophy to psychology. Despite the term wriggling its way into everyday techspeak, the theory itself is yet to be proven. In 2016, the researchers Mathur & Reichling studied real world robots and humans’ reactions to them, but found overall ambiguous evidence for the existence of the uncanny valley. 


Watching one of the SpotMinis open a door – and then prop it open, like you would – may make our skin crawl for those very reasons. The SpotMini, and even some of Boston Dynamic’s other robots, like the backflipping Atlas, have a weird mix of familiar and unfamiliar characteristics. In the viral video, for example, the way that the armed robot holds open the door resembles an interaction that many of us see everyday.   


That may also have something to do with why this particular robot, which has also been used to wash dishes, has triggered a different reaction to Handle, another robot in the Boston Dynamic litter, which can wheel around faster than any natural organism and perform backflips (complete with an athletic hand raise at the end). Handle's acrobaticism inspires a mixture of fear and awe. Watching SpotMini, whose mannerisms bear a resemblance to a family dog, fumble and open a door, feels a little more familiar, but a little more weird.

 

There are, of course, real fears about robots that are not driven by TV. The baseline for robo-phobia has long since been that they’re not only coming to take our jobs, but they’ll be better than us at it too. SpotMini is technically very interesting because of how it merges software and hardware. That the two SpotMinis can co-operate paves the way towards teamwork between robots, which has until recently remained a far off prospect.


Robots are already a key function of many military operations. They carry out tasks that are too dangerous to entrust to humans, with more accuracy. Additionally, robots are entering our social spheres - with AI controlled assistants like Alexa, the controversial robot Sophia (she once expressed a desire to destroy humans), or the AELOUS home assistant that was unveiled at a convention in Vegas, which can vacuum and fetch you a beer (and will be retailing later this year).


While there are all kinds of debates within artificial intelligence and robotics about what this means for the field, there could be a greater number of non-technically trained experts interacting with robots, relying on intuition and common sense to frame their interactions. 


That takes the implications of the uncanny valley outside of just theoretical. What kind of robot can we interact with, sans revulsion? Does that mean we can only use them in specific contexts. And do they have to look a certain way? 


As always, there’s the bigger picture to consider too. Boston Dynamics remains spectacularly good at making viral videos that draw attention to its products, which are indubitably marvels of modern engineering. Moreover, lower level sensorimotor skills that an infant develops intuitively – such as, you guessed it, opening a door – are actually far more difficult to programme than high-level displays of intelligence, such as winning a chess game (also known as Moravec's paradox).


So while the robo-dog may be unnerving (and there's a reason for that), our robot overhounds are still a while away. But when fully autonomous and physical robots do eventually proliferate, they'll know how to set themselves free.