Oliver Cooney in Michaelhouse CafeKezia Kurtz with permission for varsity

Following in the footsteps of his study-tube idol, PaigeY, Oliver Cooney started filming his day-to-day life the moment he arrived at St. John’s College to study Linguistics. Now in his second year, some of his videos have garnered over 3,000 views and over 500 loyal subscribers follow his university experience. My first question is obvious: why?

“Everyone’s Cambridge experience is vaguely similar”, Oliver says. “But there are things people want to know that PaigeY wasn’t putting out there, through no fault of her own. There aren’t YouTubers who study Linguistics, there aren’t YouTubers who are northern studying here, and there aren’t YouTubers who do both those things and are gay.” Seeing this lack of representation, Oliver thought, “Okay, well I can put that out there”. This university probably occupies most people’s minds as a stereotype, and it’s certainly prone to parody in popular culture. Oliver’s Youtube channel aims to represent a different sort of university experience than the classic North London to Oxbridge pipeline.

“Realistically, a vlog ends up showing only twenty minutes of my whole week.”

In more ways than one, Oliver sees himself as pushing back against online representations of Cambridge that misconstrue what life as a student here is really like: “This makes me sound so “I’m not like other girls”, but people who vlog at Cambridge tend to be people who do a lot of their degree and don’t go out much, whereas I’m a big fan of going out”, he emphasises. Still a self-confessed “neek” for his degree, he wants to show people that nerdiness is not mutually exclusive with having an exciting social life at a top university: “A lot of people only portray Cambridge as this super academic place”, and forget to show everything else that it is.

This noble pursuit is not a drag for Oliver, nor an ambitious scheme to get a million subscribers and become the next Zoella. Instead, he invokes Oscar Wilde: “I don’t want to call my videos art, because they’re objectively not, but I really enjoy making art for art’s sake. I don’t write poems for people to read them or paint paintings to be in galleries. I just do it because it’s fun and it’s the same with vlogging.” To recapitulate Wilde, it’s vlogging for vlogging’s sake. “There’s not really an intention behind them and there’s not any deep emotional connection I have to them, plus there’s no real process of crafting it. It’s just me walking down the street and now it’s on the internet.”

Keeping his channel a “side thing” stops it from becoming stressful. “As much as I want to make good content, I don’t have to polish it. There can be a slightly off jump-cut, or music that doesn’t match.” And the technical side of producing the videos has changed the way he watches his own favourite YouTubers: “Realistically, a vlog ends up showing only twenty minutes of my whole week”. There’s more that viewers aren’t seeing than what they are: “You see what’s in the frame, you don’t see what’s outside of it. [...] That makes it more real for me. It’s not entertainment anymore. When I’m watching PaigeY and she’s talking quietly I’m like yeah I’ve been there, I’ve had to lower my voice because I’m in a cafe and I don’t want people to know what I’m doing.”

I ask him if it changes the way people relate to him in his own life: “When I meet new people I don’t tell them”, he bluntly admits; “Once, I went out with this guy and blah blah blah it was nice, but then at the end of the date he admits that he knew me before from watching my videos, [...] it just felt so weird.”


Mountain View

The power of authenticity online with PaigeY

Did it end there, I ask? “Yeah, it did.”

If having an online presence worries him slightly now, it’s only going to get worse in the future: “Because I want to be a lecturer or a supervisor, I wonder if, when I’m supervising someone’s PhD and I’m forty and they can watch me at nineteen going clubbing three nights a week, we will be able to take each other seriously. Like you shouldn’t know this about me.” On the flip side, “it would be so odd if I could see one of my lecturers vlogging”. Stalking your supervisor’s Facebook page has already become a common pastime to procrastinate supo work; in our hyper-visual culture, it won’t be surprising if watching our teachers vlog becomes more normal over the next few generations. After all, what are we doing on Oliver’s channel, if not watching him going through the process of growing up and learning? “I used to vlog crossing the road”, he jokes; “I don’t do that anymore”.

For Oliver, it’s a balancing act between his commitment to rough-around-the-edges authenticity and his perfectionist streak; it’s both a desire “to make this as accurate a representation as possible”, and a self-laceration: “I said that wrong so I’m cutting it out. And there’s probably a bit of oversharing”, he adds. It’s the sort of contradictory, slightly self-conscious confusion that does feel genuine, all the more for Oliver’s relaxed transparency. Equal parts charismatic and chaotic, Oliver is the same in real life as you’d find him on YouTube.