Sunday, March 15, 2015

Eric, the Wanderjahr, and video selfies

There's a tradition called a "Wanderjahr:" 

  • n.
    A year-long period of travel; especially succeeding one’s education and prior unto seeking employment
  • n.
    A year spent by an apprentice travelling and honing his skills prior unto the professional practice of his trade
If you haven't seen it, I suggest you take a look at the YouTube channel of a guy named Eric, who goes by "Nomadic Fanatic."  The channel documents his Wanderjahr, although there's no indication that he has set a one-year limit on his ventures, or that he's even familiar with the idea.

Eric is a young man fresh out of college, who decided to move out of his apartment and live full time in his RV: until recently a Class C Tioga motorhome he called "Tilly."  I ran across his channel a while back when I was searching YouTube for topics related to RV maintenance, and I've followed him for the better part of a year now.  He attended The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA, which interested me right off the bat, since I spent a year as a visiting member of the faculty at Evergreen, teaching in the media studies and outdoor education programs.

Eric has, in the course of a few months, made himself into something of a celebrity.  He has thousands of YouTube followers.  He tries to upload a fresh video every day, and each clip is viewed hundreds of times, and generates dozens of comments. As near as I can tell, he's living off the proceeds of his channel: I'm really unclear how this works.  He surely has no other visible means of support, and he does keep buying stuff for his rig and putting gas into it as he travels.

What we're seeing here is a young man off to see the world.  He's from the Pacific Northwest, and we watch him travel south to California, and then east.  As I write this, he's in Florida.  He discovers that it can be cold in Texas in the winter, and that it's warm in Florida.  He visits various tourist attractions along the way, and shares what he sees.  He often shows us ample footage of his ample cat "Jax," who has his own following on YouTube and Facebook.  (Not a cat person, here!)

Eric has, among his followers,  people he calls "the haters." These folks post comments on his channel which are snarky and worse, suggesting dark secrets in his past.  They put up YouTube channels whose whole content is to debunk Eric, whom they portray as a "fraud." I've gotten messages from them after I posted a positive comment on Eric's channel, making allegations I won't repeat here.  You can find them easily enough.  They may find you.

What's this about?  Is Eric fleeing some Really Bad Stuff in his past?  Or is he simply a kind of naif, off to see the world in his RV, and taking us along on the adventure?  Maybe he's like the street musician who will entertain us in hopes that we'll throw a few bills into the open guitar case at his feet?  A busker on our digital streets?

It's hard to figure Eric out.  There's something of the con in him; something of the goofy guy down the street who keeps screwing up but somehow comes up only a little the worse for wear. He and the other YouTubers like him, are a phenomenon of the internet age.   They offer us extensions of the "selfie:" instead of taking pictures of ourselves and our friends and sharing them with the world on Facebook, these folks are making videos. Eric has some training as a videographer.  That's what he studied at Evergreen.   And so rather than still images from his iPhone, we have movies from his GoPro.  It's not very profound, but it keeps me coming back to check in. Me and a few thousand others.   It's like getting hooked on a soap opera.  Check it out.

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