Going viral didn't change my life — but I thought it might

'I was famous for 15 seconds, and I was forgotten about 15 seconds later'

“Wait, did you get that? Record it this time, I’ll do it again. Wait, why are you holding it vertical? I need horizontal!” A 12-year-old Sara said to her confused mother outside a crowded Paradise Valley Mall. When you’re trying to go viral, every clip has to be perfect.

I've wanted to be internet famous ever since I first discovered YouTube as a young tween. Like every girl in 2013, I wanted to be like Acacia Brinley, JC Caylen, Connor Franta and Kian Lawley living the celebrity life and capturing it all perfectly on camera. 

The idea of watching subscribers pour in as I racked up views on video after video of mine consumed me. So I tried to replicate it. 

I started vlogging at 13 in an attempt to achieve the viral fame that enamored me. I started recording everything: videos of my trips to the grocery store, getting driven around by my mom and clips of myself saying phrases like “you’re sooo Jelly Clarkson.” 

I thought that if I took my mundane life, threw on a filter and added some pretty music, maybe I would achieve the same fame as the YouTubers I loved. 

Obviously, that fame didn’t come. 

Then there was my Twitter phase. I’d spend hours writing up the perfect tweet. After several revisions and read-throughs to friends, it’d be perfect. Still, I’d let it sit in my drafts for weeks on end. 

When I was finally satisfied with it, I’d send it off. All I would get in return were a few likes here and there and a single retweet when I was lucky. 

Going viral felt hopeless. Attempt after attempt, platform after platform, I still found myself coming up short. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be famous on the internet. Officially discouraged, I decided to lay low for a while. 

Then, I found TikTok

When I first joined, it took a while to get used to the layout of the lip-syncing app. Many of my older — and now private — posts were short clips of me messing around with effects or trying to figure out how to use the self-timer feature. Once I got the hang of it, though, I saw my glimmer of hope.

"Maybe TikTok is where I go viral," I always thought to myself. I chose to ignore that, though — I didn’t want to get my hopes up again. 

But the more time I spent on the app, the more I realized how easy-going viral could be. 

Suddenly, everyone was on TikTok. Girls I went to high school with, old neighbors and current classmates of mine were all popping up on my “For You” —a.k.a. trending now— page. The more often I saw people I knew, the more I wanted to make it there -- if they could do it, I could too.

Hashtagging, using trending audio and dueting popular videos were all part of the initial experiment. 

A few attempts later, I finally went viral. 

All dressed up after a family holiday dinner, I told the camera my little cousin complimented me on my “pajamas.” I was not in pajamas but trousers, a sweater and Dr. Martens

I expected a few likes from mutuals but instead got 157,300 views and nearly 22,000 likes. 

The thing is, nothing else happened. 

Nobody recognized me on the street, no other famous TikTokers wanted to meet up, nobody started a fan account of me, nobody cared. I was famous for 15 seconds, and I was forgotten about 15 seconds later. 

To be honest, I’m not sure why I thought anything else would happen. I didn't put a lot of effort into that video — I actually tried harder in every other post I made. 

Expecting life to change at the hands of the internet was foolish. 15 seconds of fame can’t change an entire life’s experience. 

Going viral has always been an end-all-be-all kind of thing to me, but maybe it's just the end. The idea of making content just for the purpose of going viral is no longer enticing. Now that I know what going viral is like, and that it's not a big deal, I can look up from the screen and focus on reality. 

I’m no longer constantly recording instead of taking it all in. I’m not missing moments because I’m editing a video. I’m not refreshing my follower list every few minutes. 

I am, however, still spending two hours watching funny TikToks before bed. I see a lot of silly cat videos and ironic POVs — they're entertaining enough, but they're not life-changing. I may not want to go viral anymore, but I still want to spend every waking minute watching TikToks. Speaking realistically, this will not be changing anytime soon, but I am okay with that. 

Perhaps fame via the internet is not for me, but I will still appreciate the content as it pours in. And who knows -- I might go viral again someday, but I definitely won't be trying to. 


Reach the reporter at swindom@asu.edu and follow @SaraWindom on Twitter. 

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