The time has come for me to get a job. As one may expect, job searching is a source of stress and pressure, and while I have a pretty good idea of what I’ll be doing next year, it nonetheless weighs on my mind pretty significantly. I decided to channel my job-related stress into this hack, and recreate my resume as a YouTube playlist. I took the main entries from my current resume and created a playlist that, when the titles of the videos are read in sequential order, reads as my resume. In creating this hack, I attempted to embody Kari Kraus’s notion of speculative design. Kraus defines speculative design as design that asks “what if?” For my hack, I attempted to ask, “what if I focused on the text-based content of a video streaming platform? What if I changed the way we’re told to present our resumes? What if I turned something professional and serious into something sillier and more playful?” Through this project, I found myself creating a critique of the current employment landscape, going against the grain of YouTube’s platform, and getting new, and perhaps disturbing, insight into the content YouTube hosts. In short, I came away from the project with a better understanding of the implicit expectations of this platform and the potential fault lines by which to question them.
In part, this hack was meant to be a commentary on the state of employment for recent college graduates. A large portion of entry level positions are low-paying and rather menial and unfulfilling. Most of my peers have shifted from landing a “dream job” to landing “any job that will pay the bills, no matter how soul-sucking.” Scrolling through hundreds of YouTube search results for hours at a time to try to find the one video with the exact title I needed was not intellectually challenging or stimulating, but was very time consuming, repetitive, and tedious. In other words, it involved exactly what many entry level jobs for recent graduates entail. Creating a resume playlist was my tongue-in-cheek way of saying, “Look! I will do the menial, pointless, mind-numbing tasks necessary for most positions offered to graduates with a BA in English and I will do them well!” In all honesty, I don’t feel quite this hopeless and negative about my job prospects following graduation, but I felt creating my resume this way was a valuable critique on how many seniors feel about the employment landscape.
I see this hack as going against the grain of YouTube in two primary ways–the first being that YouTube is intended for video content, and I decided to create something text-based. This process was actually pretty difficult. Most YouTube video titles are long and full of detail in order to spark interest and gain views. The video titles I needed were short and simple, and finding exactly the short phrases I needed took a great deal of time. Most of the videos I put on my playlist had under 1,000 views and were of rather low production quality. With ads and sponsorships, YouTube has really become its own industry, and this project encouraged me to dive deeper than the polished, professional content into what I considered the people’s YouTube. Focusing on titles instead of actual video content revealed a whole low-budget, homemade side of YouTube I likely never would have otherwise explored.
The second way I went against the expectations of the platform was by making short, non-descriptive, seemingly unrelated searches and not watching any of the videos in the results. After enough searches, YouTube would ask me to confirm that I wasn’t a robot because it had “detected unusual activity” from my account. Clearly, the point of YouTube is to watch videos, not make multiple seemingly random searches for topics such as “student government” and “DRI” without engaging with any of the content. Those little notifications from YouTube about my “unusual activity” revealed to me how much the platform didn’t intend for me to use it in the way I did. Not engaging with the video content and conducting repeated searches doesn’t generate ad revenue or inform YouTube’s algorithm of my preferences. In a way, I hacked YouTube’s entire revenue generating scheme, so much so that the platform assumed I was a bot.
It’s worth noting that this process of searching through thousands of videos gave me a very interesting, and rather horrifying, insight into the content on YouTube’s platform. I tend to reside in the corners of YouTube devoted to fashion, makeup, video games, anime, superheroes, and educational science content. I’d heard in some of my previous Digital Studies classes, of course, that YouTube is home to some really radical far-right political content, but I had never seen it for myself. After all, the makeup tutorials and Let’s Plays I watch almost never delve into politics. However, when searching for videos to make my resume, I was shocked at the thinly veiled white nationalist content I found on the site. The content was everywhere, but perhaps the most glaring example was when I attempted to add the Diversity Coordinating Board Senator, an SGA position I’d held, to the resume. I ended up having to exclude it, because I couldn’t find the exact video titles I needed, but I searched extensively and was rather horrified at the result. Simply searching “diversity” on YouTube brings up countless videos about how “diversity is code for white genocide,” racist rants about “the myth of diversity,” and other such appalling content. I never realized how much white supremacist content was right at my fingertips, completely unfiltered by YouTube. I imagined a middle school student searching “diversity” on YouTube for educational purposes and finding these results, and how easily he may be radicalized. I found it eye-opening, in a horrifying sort of way, to see just how much alt-right content YouTube contains.
I use YouTube almost every day, whether to put on a video in the background while I get ready in the morning, or listen to music, or simply waste an idle five minutes. In other words, I consider myself very familiar with the platform. And yet this hack revealed elements of the platform to me I hadn’t considered or experienced before. I found a whole different side of YouTube with low-quality, unprofessional content and a frankly horrifying mass of white nationalist content. For all the revelations of this hack, perhaps the biggest was that I can learn so much more about platforms and software by finding their fault lines and going against the expectations for their use. I’m curious now to try to explore the back ends of other platforms with which I’m very familiar. Based on this hack, I think it might reveal a completely different side I’d never before considered.
Kraus, Kari. “Finding Fault Lines: An Approach to Speculative Design.” The Routledge Companion to Media Studies and Digital Humanities, edited by Jentery Sayers, Taylor and Francis, 2018, pp. 162–173.