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Jiya Singh

Not to sound like a Boomer, but if there’s anything that teenagers from my generation have in common, it’s an addiction to our phones. But rather than the mobile games or iMessages that entranced everyone else (although Temple Run was goated), it was the high-quality, accessible camera that appealed to me. I spent my time in elementary school stealing my sisters’ 2004 Nikon camera and parents’ smartphones, filming videos of myself doing anything and everything. 

I would shove the camera into my grandpa’s face every five seconds while on vacation to ask him “How do you feel?” or record myself reacting to food at restaurants — anything that felt even slightly important to me would be carefully filmed and kept to rewatch over and over again. Despite the annoyance of my family at the amount of storage I was consuming on their devices, I kept recording. 

Discovering the iMovie application on my mom’s iPhone in fifth grade was a game changer: I now had a way to put the scattered clips together and create short movies that told a coherent story. Combining my dramatic flair with my longtime love of filmmaking, I would make my cousins and friends dress up in costumes and lip sync songs to later spend hours editing them together. I loved it. 

Then for my 13th birthday, my parents gifted me with my own smartphone. Suddenly, I didn’t have to rely on my parents, sister or literally anyone else with a camera to fuel my filmmaking addiction. I had an energetic personality and my own 64 GB to record my life.

While having my own phone was exciting, I soon learned that the expectation to create a social media profile came with it. Inspired by just about everyone else in my grade, I made an Instagram account. I was fascinated by the feature of “Instagram stories” where I could see what my peers were doing on a daily basis. As I began swiping through them every day, the fascination quickly turned to a feeling of isolation. Seeing others constantly record videos of themselves when hanging out with their friends both made me upset that I wasn’t invited, and sad I wasn’t “cool” or “interesting” like them.

Soon, Instagram’s toxic culture motivated me to invite my friends to hang out more, not with the intention of actually spending time together, but instead to create moments I could film and post to my Instagram story. As I began to shove my camera into people’s faces, not for fun, like it was with my grandpa, but rather to fulfill external pressures, I felt the joy of making videos slip away gradually. 

One day, I rewatched the seven consecutive Instagram stories I had posted, heard my own voice and found I couldn’t recognize it. The girl recording the video had a higher, more animated voice than my own and an unnatural dialogue. She was a character I began playing every time I picked up my phone to record for my story. As I watched, I realized — I didn’t want to be her. I wanted to be myself again.

After that, I decided that I needed to return to doing what made me the most happy — not showing off my life, but instead, putting visual pieces together to form a story. As I began offering to edit videos for different organizations, I found myself falling back in love with both the simple magic of iMovie and with the authentic version of myself that I had discovered through the process. I now felt comfortable again to record myself through “vlogging” my school trips, vacations and daily life.

And in the beginning of my junior year, I created a YouTube channel — “Jiya’s Giant Vlogs.” This was my safe space to be myself, where I compiled videos, music and text in short vlogs to capture anything from the week of AP exams to my summer trip to New York. “Jiya’s Giant Vlogs” was natural — the perfect embodiment of my passions in a place that came without the pressure of an Instagram story.

I truly think I am my vlog channel’s biggest fan. And even though my phone and laptop storage are constantly full as a result of it, I now proudly tell everyone to “like, comment and subscribe” to me. After all, my 58 subscribers and I have created a pretty safe place on the internet here.