How two brothers and a legion of fans are aiming to decrease world suck and increase empathy. Read this story in Somersault’s free pdf issue!
By Taylor Kate Brown (Taylor Kate Brown is an online writer with the BBC, but the internet has always been her home. She tweets at @taylorkatebrown.)
On August 16, 2009 John Green sat down on his porch and looked directly into a camera. Above his face was the title: The healthcare overhaul explained via pig. It was not a partisan screed about overweight healthcare pigs or welfare moms. John had recently gone to the Indianapolis state fair, saw the largest pig the state of Indiana had to offer that year and come to the conclusion that it was an excellent metaphor for the US healthcare system.
"Walkin’ Tall — the World’s Largest Boar who can’t walk – reminded me a little bit of America’s health care system," Green said. "Depending on your perspective, he’s either impressively huge or distressingly huge.”
Green wasn’t just shouting into the YouTube void. (He wasn’t shouting at all, because in John Green’s world that’s not necessary when you’re using your brain.) As a YA novelist, John Green slings metaphors for a living, but for the past few years he’s ended up with a part-time gig as a videoblogger and as the unofficial co-mayor of a growing Internet community. He is one half of the five-year YouTube experiment turned full-fledged online community: VlogBrothers, started with his younger brother Hank, as a way to connect from across the country. “Hello, John. By now you have received my message that we will no longer be communicating through any textual means.”
"Good morning, Hank. It’s January 2nd, 2007. I just spent 2 hours and 13 minutes downloading your 2 minute and 1 second video, which can mean only one thing: that I’m at mom and dad’s house – the last residence in the United States of America with dial-up internet." So began the first back and forth of John and Hank Green’s yearlong experiment to reconnect with each other without “textual communication,” which meant no emails and no texts. Instead they would be able to call each other by phone, and more importantly, were required to send each other a video blog every weekday. Hank would start on Monday, then John would respond on Tuesday, back to Hank on Wednesday and so on. There would be punishments for breaking the textual communication barrier, chosen by the non-offending brother, and challenges - partially to give them something to talk about, partially because they were brothers, and that’s what brothers do, even when they are full-grown men.
"In the end, text is a very empty form of communication," Hank told NPR at the end of the year, describing the brothers’ relationship before the vlog. "When you go from actual physical presence to spoken word and then another step we moved to text, it becomes a much more shallow way of communicating."
John, the elder brother, was 29 and recently married to Sarah. They lived in New York City and he was in the process of writing his third book for young adults. Hank, then 26, lived in the college town of Missoula, Montana, and was also recently married to a woman named Katherine. He ran the environmental-techie blog EcoGeek, and in his spare time, messed around on this guitar.
At the beginning both brothers spoke slowly and haltingly, speaking face on into the camera. Sometimes they’d cut in footage they’d filmed during their day. Hank’s first video shows footage of a New Year’s eve party. They did it for a whole year, carried video cameras around with them, making friends and complete strangers give the introduction to some videos. As the year passed, the brothers spoke and cut faster. More importantly, they started speaking directly to the viewers outside the brotherhood. And then they gave them a name: Nerdfighters.
A bit of tripping down memory lane after some #realtalk with the night producer this evening.