Exactly 330 days before Playlist Live, my freshman year roommate and I jittered the ants out of our pants as we obsessively refreshed our browsers to snatch the first pre-sale tickets. We were college students — “adults” — but we allowed ourselves a minute of tween squeals and fangirl spasms. The prospect of Playlist became our pick-me-up for the rest of the year.

Essentially, Playlist Live Tri-State is a three day convention in Secaucus, New Jersey. The event invites YouTubers, web filmmakers, bloggers and other online content creators to mingle among a community of other media enthusiasts. There were open dialogues about finding individual artistic passion, seminars on how to become involved in the industry without a “new media major,” and panels discussing the responsibility to raise awareness and incite social change on this platform.

Playlist proved firsthand how YouTube and filmed content have evolved so far beyond cat and prank videos. People can now make a living by sharing their creativity online. YouTube has become an open stage for aspiring comedians, an accessible venue for not-yet-rockstars, and a mic for anyone to voice social activism. People develop personalities onscreen and some even amass massive followings.

I discovered Andrew Lowe last week, Troye Sivan this past year, Grace Helbig three years ago and NigaHiga seven whole years ago. I have watched some content creators from the time their videos were still grainy and their viewer count only held four places. I followed as their fetus faces gradually matured, as their budding channels gradually surpassed milestones of quality and quantity.

Some of them are now household names and regularly appear on television. Seeing their success grow from the roots up is incredibly rewarding, even if I have no stake in it. I still can’t quite understand how I can feel so invested in people I never met until last weekend. However, seeing their faces every single week for years – watching them speak passionately and believe whole-heartedly in their work – their dedication is nothing but admirable.

After years of watching the same YouTube characters, they have simply become friends I have never met. I sit alone with my laptop in my bedroom, with voices seemingly aimed solely toward me – I feel a connection even with a lacking physical aspect. However, the personalities I grow close to are still barricaded by an impossibly impenetrable screen. Online, connections are forever one-sided – they feature my reactions to people in a video who cannot reciprocate expressions. At Playlist though, these bonds came to life. Relationships become concrete, and connection is immediate.

Back in high school, I raced home from school to reunite with familiar faces onscreen. When AP exams and college applications blew a storm over my life – when everything became depressing and overwhelming – YouTube became my refuge. I was a teenager too anxious to find alternatives to drama at school, too eager to immerse myself in a community that didn’t include people I saw every day since elementary school.

Looking back, my love for YouTube feels lame to admit, but I can honestly say not much has changed now. I still retreat to videos for comfort – for study breaks that keep me sane. YouTube grounded me from imploding in high school, and it has since bonded me with my best friend in college. Most importantly, it remains a source of a guaranteed smile every time I hit play.

For a weekend, an entire expo center all knew the words to “Happy Little Pill” and belted it together. For once, I didn’t cowl in judgment when I pointed my own camera at myself. Selfies were not shameful and vlogging was not considered strange. We all understood the value of capturing every moment. It was a widespread FOMO that didn’t feel so lonesome.

At Playlist, we blurred the lines between content consumers and content creators. Regardless of “fame,” age, gender, race or any other identity – we found a simple common ground: an enthusiasm for new media that is rapidly expanding our world.

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