One million views is a hell of a drug
So I guess I’m an AI influencer now?
I’m still calibrating.
Here’s what happened:
A new AI chatbot called ChatGPT was released and in my manic excitement I quickly recorded a video, slapped on some edits and made 20,000 new friends on the internet.
I really do mean hastily thrown together: I used a free screen recording tool, resized my desktop screen to be somewhat mobile-like, and hit record.
I expected a couple hundred views and, if I was lucky, a single comment.
Instead, it hit 100k views within hours.
“So there’s something here,” I thought. Maybe it’s a fluke — TikTok trying to hook me because I hadn’t posted a video in months. “If User doesn’t post a video after X days, and a new video gets X% metric, show it to another X users and GET THOSE CREATORS ADDICTED”
The format I used was unusual for TikTok. I started with a reaction — more of a YouTube thing — then walked through how I did something as I did it.
To see if it was a one time thing, I quickly made another one, this time simulating raindrops. It hit hundreds of thousands of views in the first day and then it hit a million in a few days.
And then — in a fit of dopamine — I did another making a starfield simulation. It didn’t do as well, only a couple hundred thousand views (which paradoxically felt like failure).
Time to make another video, this time responding to a commenter who asked for an analog clock.
And there it was.
My second million.
A reason to forgo sleep and refresh TikTok instead.
God, I love it when this type of obsession comes.
Under a million is… failure?!
I thought I knew what 1 million views felt like, but I didn’t.
I remember Abraham opening iMovie — this must have been around 2015 — and slapping some text over a crooked image, and then later that day getting a million views. Soon after we would hit 1 million views on videos all the time. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tiktok. We had a bit of an unwritten rule: if a video got under a million views, it was a failure.
I suppose it’s not a surprise that the mindset bled over to my own personal accounts, which meant EVERY SINGLE THING I EVER POSTED was a failure, because I put zero time or care into it and when I did post I would not get a million anything (unless if you count silence).
This was a Thing for a long time. Abraham and I didn’t have the same expectations personally as we did at work, and that was okay.
But all this changed in late 2020, when Abraham became famous.
He quickly had viral videos on TikTok and — in a shockingly short amount of time — hit a million followers. Soon he was being recognized in public… it was next level when we were out to dinner and our bill was unexpectedly covered.
Normally, we stay in sync on interests. If one starts reading a book, for instance, the other might start it too.
And so I, TikTok boomer that I was, created an account for myself, hit 10k followers, and then promptly forgot about it. I tend to grow disinterested once the challenge is over.
Mostly we talked about his account. We were obsessed with it, talking every day, testing new ideas. Abraham would send me a draft to look over, I would give some feedback. Sometimes he’d re-edit or reshoot, sometimes he’d tell me it was good enough and to go jump in a lake.
Still, it was his personal account and not something we were doing together, and this was a new dynamic. A shift. Something new to navigate in our 20 year long friendship.
I admit jealously snuck up at times — I felt stuck running two of our businesses while he was playing and his followers were increasing daily more than I had total — but when I noticed this feeling I quickly squashed it. If my pastoral training taught me anything, it was how to stuff down sins. I knew that jealousy had no redeeming qualities here. I wanted to celebrate what he was doing, not make it about my own insecurities.
There’s something about a million.
It seems like an arbitrary number… but it doesn’t FEEL like one.
The number is so magical, so rounded, so many zeros.
A million anything sounds plentiful. Abundant.
When I was 23, I made a spreadsheet with a plan on how I could retire with $1 million by investing a couple hundred dollars a month.
When I created Brainjolt, getting revenue to $1 million was a huge, seemingly unachievable goal.
With Blue Kazoo, which we created many years later, it was just expected we could do that in the first year, and we did.
At this point, a million feels depressingly like baseline.
And I was trying desperately to keep that out of my personal life – the pressure to keep producing at work is immense, and to have that pressure personally felt like too much.
And yet… something slipped through. And it felt kinda good.
When that first video hit a million, I excitedly texted Abraham about it, and he texted back:
“This idiot can’t even read an analog clock”
With views come comments, and with comments come trolls.
I made a conscious effort to leave my foibles in the videos. In one video I can’t remember what half a circle is called — it would have been easy to take that out, but what fun is that? We all forget or learn things, and that’s part of the fun.
And yet, I found myself wanting to defend myself to a few comments. I DO know how to read an analog clock! I DO know basic parts of a circle (most days)! I’m not a complete idiot! Probably!!
But there’s no use in that. Be thankful for the engagement, I tell myself, and move on. No really, Josh, move on. Stop thinking about it.
It’s the real life comments that bring real joy. 1 million views is just a statistic, some quirk of our minds that tells us we did good.
But hearing that a stranger came across my video on the internet and then was talking about it… now that can sustain joy for entire minutes instead of seconds.
Emily and I were at lunch in Atwater Village and she gasped. But it wasn’t something wrong — a friend sent her a screenshot of his family discussing my video. “If my knucklehead brother knows about his video,” he told her, “he must really have gone viral.”
(( begin minutes of satisfaction ))
The hamster wheel beckons
Is this as good as it gets? Did I reach the pinnacle? Will I ever be happy for more than seven nanoseconds?
After all, I only get to experience my first 1 million once.
I can already feel my interest flagging. How many videos on ChatGPT creating P5 scripts can I do without wanting to ride off into the suicide?
Is this really what I want to be doing with my life?
Shouldn’t I be trying to cure cancer or at least make something that generates lunch money?
And yet… I’m going to record another video today.
Because the only thing better than two viral videos, is three viral videos.
The hamster wheel of views is slowing down and clearly the only solution is to jump on and start running.
One million views is a hell of a drug.