They’re mundane and boring yet often get millions of views: so why do we watch vlogs?

YouTubers’ vlogs are often full of the most boring elements of daily life. But experts say their dull nature may actually be a draw.

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Peak vlogging season is well and truly upon us. With Vlogtober just weeks behind us, we’re now in the midst of Vlogmas, and with the prospect of “What I Got For Christmas”, New Year’s Eve, and “Back to School/Uni” vlogs in our near future.

Vlogging, for those who aren’t aware, is the video-blogging of one’s day: a style of content YouTubers around the world participate in, which requires getting over the embarrassment of carrying around and talking to a camera in public while documenting their days and daily routines, in the hope of hundreds, thousands, even millions, of views.

The problem with vlogs, though? They are, more often than not, dreadfully, painfully boring.

Canadian YouTuber, Estee LaLonde, who has 1.2m subscribers on the video site, is a perfect example of the tedious nature of much vlog content. Some of LaLonde’s videos from this year’s Vlogtober are entitled “WORKING FROM HOME”, “I’M HUNGOVER”, and “PACKING ORDERS” – not the most inspiring of sells. And the content is about as exciting as they sound: bar some clips of LaLonde on a plane journey, these vlogs are predominantly the YouTuber sitting around at home, petting her dog, doing some work on her laptop, and simply recounting her day to camera. However, despite the decidedly dull content, all of them have around 100,000 views, and thousands of comments from fans saying how much they loved the videos.  

So, not to sound like a middle-aged man who calls his smartphone a “handheld computer”: why do we watch these vlogs that are frankly boring?

“It’s basically a social group emerging from that particular channel,” Dr Sharon Coen, a senior lecturer in media psychology at the University of Salford, tells me. Coen specialises in the behavioural consequences to people exposed to messages on social media, and has a particular fascination with YouTube as a platform for emerging online communities. “There are people that follow that channel that interact not only with the vlogger but among themselves,” she says, “So you have what in social psychology we would call an emergent social identity.”

The YouTube ecosystem creates sub communities based around certain YouTubers’ channels, and being a part of that fanbase becomes a part of the fans’ identity. This means that, when a vlog comes from a popular YouTuber, that YouTuber’s fan community will continue to consume their content regardless of how interesting that content is.

“I can tell you that when people feel connection, when they feel that they are a part of that community, they stick to it,” Coen tells me. “It’s one of the fundamental reasons why people go on social media in the first place.”

James Houlden, one of Coen’s students, is a post-graduate in media psychology and focuses on the effect that vlogs, in particular, have on young people. Houlden explains that the draw to vlogs is often not about the level of excitement the viewer gets from what the vlogger is doing, but the simply the subject matter of the video itself. He says that this draw can be explained by three main principles: authenticity and relatability, pace, and variety.

It’s the latter, he explains, the variety of topics, which initially draws young people in. “Young people being able to search something quite niche or something quite mainstream, to fit their tastes and interests, is the whole crux of YouTube,” Houlden says. “That they’re able to go and find things that fit them and fit their interests.” There have been swathes of research in the media psychology field showing that kids watch YouTube because they like learning new skills and being exposed to new interests, he says.

Vlogs have become almost aspirational, exposing them to new things that they could potentially achieve. “There’s a sense of self-discovery there, a sense of self efficacy,” Houlden explains. “If you see someone doing a certain thing [in a vlog], young people think, ‘If they can do that, I can do that.’”

And the pace, he tells me, is what keeps them watching. Unlike a standard YouTube video which can often be more static – a beauty YouTuber sitting in front of a camera doing their makeup for an extended period of time, say, or a football YouTuber commenting on football clips – vlogs tend to be more fast-paced, with constant cuts and new sections happening every half minute. “If these vlogs were in written format, like a blog, you wouldn’t be able to get through them. Because it’s fast-paced, because its’ quick, even if the content isn’t that exciting it’s easier for us to stick to it especially because their length is limited.” Vlogs tend to be short – rarely exceeding ten minutes.

The final element that pulls viewers in is how relatable the content is – watching someone viewers may see as “famous” just living a normal life. This, ultimately, has a positive cognitive effect on vlog-watchers, Houlden says. “Most vlogs have a very pro-social, very positive message to them,” he tells me, “And if young people are able to relate to that, then they’re able to go and take forward those positive messages that vloggers are putting out into their daily lives.” This ability to relate to this content because of its positive messaging, Houlden argues, means that vlogs continue to be watched – even if the content isn’t blockbuster-exciting.  

This is reflected among the people watching these vlogs. Now aged 22, my sister Tia has been watching YouTube for over ten years. Although initially cynical about vlog content, she tells me that the key draws Houlden speaks about are the same reasons she now finds she enjoys this style of video.

“It’s literally just fun to watch rich people live their aesthetically pleasing lives,” she tells me; many of these popular vloggers are multi-millionaires. “I know they’re insanely boring, [but] they’re soothing to watch. It’s like pleasant background noise.”

On Twitter, other people have posted similar sentiments. “The boring vlogs are what I live for” one user wrote; “No matter how boring they are...[vlogs] just make me feel so comfy”, wrote another. Some YouTubers have even claimed that their susbscribers have requested more boring vlogs”.

Tia says that she actually prefers blogs that are less punchy and eye-catching. “That’s why I don’t watch the Paul brothers’ vlogs,” she says, referring to well-known YouTubers Jake and Logan Paul. “I don’t watch them for many reasons, but their videos also seem chaotic and stressful, which is the opposite of what I look for when I want to watch a vlog.”

Although research has tended to find such positive response to vlogs, Houlden is keen to emphasise that this research is still in its infancy: the study of YouTube, video, and social media are all themselves relatively new subject areas because they have all only existed for fifteen years at most. But millions of people watch vlogs every day – and from researchers, experts, and vlog-viewers themselves, the positive response to watching vlogs is consistent and overwhelming. Although mundane, ordinary, and often just dull, the ever-moving, calming content is making viewers feel better about themselves – and the routine, boring nature of these videos is actually, for many, pleasantly aspirational.

Sarah Manavis is the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer.