Kids against the machine: In an experiment, these kids show us that they barely give a rat’s ass about the Kool-Aid we’re all trying to drink from

I happen to live on the Internet, like any regular person out there. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I parked in front of a TV for hours with the same mindless devotion I have for my laptop. We’ve all known this for years, but it still blows my mind how addictive the virtual world really is. It’s kind of like The Matrix, with less latex clothing but more Keanu Reeves memes. Who wouldn’t want to live there?

In fact, the Internet feels more like a village, a real neighborhood, than a glob of binary code. We all have our cliques, our own little corners, and there are also people — the kind born and bred with HTTP on their minds — that we’ve come to admire. These are ordinary boys and girls who have found fame and fortune by revealing to the world just how ordinary they are. They simply record all of it in their own YouTube channels, carving out names for themselves by creating makeup tutorials, elaborate pranks, or 15-minute rants about mom jeans. (There are some pretty weird people out there. It’s awesome.)

YouTubers may film from the comforts of their bedrooms, but a growing number of them are gaining followers in the millions. And with that fame comes fortune: some of the most popular YouTubers earn thousands of dollars for every hundred thousand views; others have secured book deals, television shows, and movie roles in the process. It’s a new age, and our new breed of celebrities is paving the way for this new era.

When I talk about YouTube, I may sound like I speak with some kind of detached, almost scientific perspective. That is somehow true, because it really is a fascinating little bubble worthy of a graduate thesis. But I am also an overgrown 15-year-old, and I honestly had a mental breakdown when I found out that some of my favorite YouTubers were coming to Manila for the YouTube Fan Fest. Joe Sugg, Caspar Lee, and Oli White — some of the cutest British YouTubers, if not the cutest — along with a number of other American and local YouTubers met up with their fans for a weekend of the best kind of mindless fun. I was particularly excited to see the British YouTubers, because they’re known for their hilarious and elaborate prank videos on each other. Plus, they weren’t so bad to look at. Joe does brilliant impressions and is a straight-up twink cutie, Caspar is blond and South African and therefore primed to be the love of my life, and Oli looks like Liam Payne from One Direction. He’s totally chubuff (chubby + buff) and I’m all about that.

They may be the greatest thing to ever happen to me

All of this came together in just under a month, all because of a single hashtag: a girl named Reese started the trending topic #BringYouTubersToManila. Despite the rush, everything was for free — the 3,000-plus tickets to the variety show, access to the meet and greet… all for the love of YouTube. And to think that all it needed was a single spark. Scary what we can do when we really put time and effort into it, huh? Homework and love life included.

You will not believe how I excited I was, especially because I was going to have the opportunity to see my faves up close at the press conference. The same people I spent hours watching on a tiny screen were actually going to appear in front of me. Minutes before the press con, I found myself living out an Eminem song: palms sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy. This was my 8 Mile rap battle, and I couldn’t even rap. (That is a lie, I am a terrific rapper.) What was I gonna say? I worried that if I asked a question, I would mess it up. “So guys, what are your thoughts on — I LOVE YOU HAVE MY CHILDREN BYE.”

I wish I could tell you that I was a brilliant reporter, shooting off thoughtful questions and replying with my own witty comebacks. I was sitting on the couch, right in front of the small stage, when I turned and saw Caspar’s blonde head bobbing out of the crowd of cameramen. I couldn’t help it; I held on to Maine, our editorial assistant, who was taking pictures. “Marga, you have no chill,” she warned me discreetly, noting my bright red face. Of course I have no chill. There is no room for chill right now. We are at war. Love is a battlefield.

Caspar, Joe, and Oli (or, as they are collectively and annoyingly known, “Jaspoli”) sat right across from us, and when their eyes lingered on us for a hot second, I couldn’t help myself. I. Shut. Down. And when I say that, I mean, my jaw fell and I swear I saw stars. I found myself turning in every direction of the room as one reporter after another asked them question after question — a relay of generic “How do you create fresh content?” and “Are you enjoying the Philippines?” — questions that they could have totally known had they spent 10 hours a week watching their daily vlogs like I do. I began to feel a little upset at how it all made them seem so corny. Ask them about how to plan out a great prank! Ask them who gets to be the little spoon when they nap together! Think, people!

When I finally had the guts to raise a trembling hand, the moderator chose someone else. My gut was full of regret and that morning’s granola breakfast. The press conference ended, and I only had time to ask them for one photo. Jaspoli were nice enough to let an old lady like me take a selfie with them, and gamely reenacted their favorite emoji. I was trying to feel out for the connection I just knew we had — could they tell that I was a kindred spirit, a soul mate in the making? Perhaps they did, but it was time for them to pose for another set of selfies.

The press conference ended at 3 p.m., four hours before the variety show. I didn’t really know how to kill time at Resorts World without losing money at the casino, so I spent it at a café with companions, debriefing each other over the things we should’ve done when we met our beloved YouTube trinity. I was walking on a cloud, for sure, basking in the glow of the interaction. But I berated myself for my lack of moxie, because this totally matters and nothing else does. Kidding. Kind of.

The time finally came for us to see Jaspoli with their thousands of fans at the variety show, and they just answered Twitter questions. It wasn’t the most exciting thing, but the crowd ate it up. I actually feared for my life as the thousands of schoolgirls (some in their uniforms) chanted “Jaspoli! Jaspoli!” so loud that the Marriot ballroom actually shook. Never doubt your teenager again, parents. They are a tenacious bunch.

In fact, I would say that some of them are downright menacing too. The Jaspoli segment took place really early in the show, followed by local boyband Chicser, an amalgamation of Super Junior and One Direction, if you will. The crowd was not happy about it. The audience of teenage girls booed them as they danced, throwing up thumbs down signs and bad fingers throughout the whole thing. When two Chicser members joined another YouTuber’s segment, someone threw a black ballet shoe at them. I mean, why???

It was a serious case of secondhand embarrassment, and it hurt to watch. In the crowd of naysayers, I tried to shout out my support. “Ang galing niyo, mga hijo!” I yelled during their performance. I doubt they heard, but it was the least I could do. What’s worse is that when the popular YouTubers would come back onstage, they spent most of the time trying to tell the little girls not to push and shove each other for a closer look. I could see arms being raised as some of the audience members asked bouncers to fish them out for a medic. I tried to stay positive, but it soon became too painful to watch.

While the idea of seeing Jaspoli again made my heart sing a German aria, I thought it best to leave. As I waited for my Uber, I looked forward to going back to the Internet I lived in. I’ve got a much better view from there, anyway.

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