Since I’ve grown up with technology, internet friends are not a foreign concept to me. My fingers are always glued to laptop keys or my eyes trained on a phone screen, and they have been for as long as I can remember. To me, social media was never “toxic” or “bad.” It was a new world for me to escape to. I lived a secret “Hannah Montana” double life on social media, where I connected with people my age all across the world due to our overlapping interest in a band or our shared love for a YouTuber in a way I didn’t with my friends in real life. Through my formative high school years when I just felt like I needed someone to talk to, I was able to connect with real people just like me through Twitter. When I needed advice on boys or friend drama or college applications, I was able to confide in those who were outside of the situation that could give their unfiltered opinions.
I know, I know. This goes against all the “stranger danger” warnings that our parents would instill in us when we were kids. But I can truly say that social media has made an incredibly positive impact on my life. Some of the connections I created on Twitter when I was sixteen are still some of my closest friends today. I have met Twitter friends IRL (in real life) from across the country (New York!) to even across the world (Australia!). I have grown up with these friends, and have watched them graduate college, or get new exciting jobs, or get engaged and even have a baby. We have gone through life together, and I know that they will always be there for me - and vice versa.
One of these amazing friendships I made from Twitter was with Colleen Kelly (@colliscool). Coll is based in Chicago and I’m based in Los Angeles, yet technology has enabled our friendship to work. From meeting for the first time in real life at the Santa Monica Pier, to Coll and her family letting me stay at her home for a week in Chicago, she is not just my “Twitter” friend, she is my “true” friend.
Coll has a social media story of her own. She expresses her creative talents with her YouTube channel, which has amassed an impressive 320k subscribers with her Twitter and Instagram following closely with 139.6k and 212.2k followers respectively. But what I admire most about Coll is not the amount of followers she has, it’s her ability to unapologetically express herself online. She is truly an authentic content creator, and uses her voice to always stay true to herself and her values. I was able to speak with her about her YouTube career, social media, and what it means to be a Gen-Z.
Social media plays a big role in how Gen-Z views the world. To what extent do you think social media has impacted your life?
“Social media has definitely changed the way I look at everyday life. Growing up I was extremely socially awkward (still am), but I don’t struggle with expressing myself online because there are communities and support for just about everything. I’m able to fully be myself online and this has really helped build my self-confidence. In other ways it has negatively impacted my self-confidence when I compare myself to others. It’s an overall challenge managing it alongside one’s mental health.”
What inspired you to pursue a YouTube career?
“I grew up watching a lot of YouTubers-- Smosh was my shit. The homemade feel to their videos always made it feel like a realistic thing I could be capable of. I guess the thing that held me back was that I didn’t know what kind of content I would make. I’ve always just been a huge fangirl and posted about that mainly. I started out making fan edits of bands and random comedy videos on Vine. I saw a friend of mine make a video about One Direction and that gave me all the inspiration I needed. I have the most fun expressing my genuine interests and connecting with people through YouTube. For as simple as it is-- as long as you are making content you enjoy making, people will recognize that.”
What social media platforms do you like the most? Why?
“I really like TikTok right now. It has an algorithm that knows all. The content is always something I want to watch. So simple. I wish YouTube would take notes because I discover so many amazing creators on TikTok every day.”
What’s your favorite thing about being a part of Gen-Z?
“We question everything and look out for each other. I think a lot of us have been educated on many world topics online. We are very united and have a lot of power to make change.”
What are some of your favorite brands? Why?
“I’ve been really into supporting independent artists and their businesses lately. My sister is an artist and is one of my biggest inspirations in life. Being able to support smaller artists like her is really fulfilling because I know the struggle she feels. I feel it too. Any form of art is a very emotionally taxing job.”
Since starting NinetyEight, many have asked us to define “authenticity.” What does “authenticity” mean to you?
“I present my authentic self online by treating my community as friends. I just act how I do all the time and that’s about it. If anything I try to be extra myself at times and it gets annoying.”
If you didn’t create a YouTube account, how different do you think your life would be?
“I would not have made the friends, built the confidence, or learned any of the amazing lessons about others and myself if I had never created a YouTube channel. The community I have made is something I am most proud of in my whole life.”
If you could tell the other generations something they probably don’t know about Gen-Z, what would it be?
“Our generation can see past the surface and we really care about inspiring the right change. I strive to be the change I want to see :)”
For a Gen-Zs, social media has undoubtedly changed every aspect of our lives: from shopping to our schooling to our social lives, technology unites our entire generation. Through social media, we are able to speak up and use our voices, educate ourselves by consuming content, and even establishing lifelong friendships through communication.