Davies-Carr and parents like him no longer face the same set of limitations when bouncing images of their children around the globe; instead of transmitting them to the public, they can send individual video texts and direct messages, or upload to the cloud. Simultaneously, social media gave us the option of engaging with kids (or cats) who belong to our actual friends and family, or even friends of friends -- anyone we can claim a tacit offline connection with. The runaway marvel of something as generic as "Charlie Bit Me" can't be duplicated in an era where we save our attention for youths who retain it over the course of an entire childhood, like Gavin, a contemporary viral kid whose expressive reactions are fodder for endless memes.
With YouTube overcrowded, Vine shut down, and Instagram and Twitter as cliquey as they are, it's nearly impossible for a viral video to have the impact it once did. What goes viral now are the channels, the people, and the trends or hashtags -- not the individual videos. We fall down the rabbit hole of watching objects crushed by hydraulic press, ice bucket challenges gone wrong, dash-cam crashes, and recreations of the "Harlem Shake" dance, but it's rare for any entry to stand out among the rest. The YouTube clips with genuine traction are carefully engineered corporate efforts -- see: your "Carpool Karaoke" segments or John Oliver investigations. When a truly organic and amateur video erupts -- "Chewbacca Mom," or "Damn, Daniel" -- those same late-night TV hosts who currently rule the viral landscape with professional writers and a slick aesthetic rush to book the unknown guests and annihilate whatever joy we found in their off-kilter, irreverent, grainy smartphone footage. If 2007 was the Golden Age of virality, it's in part because that age was swiftly coming to an end: August of that year marked the appearance of YouTube's first ad.
The good news is we will never again want for videos to distract from work or entertain during long commutes. We'll always tag hometown friends on the absurd local news story about the school or sketchy bar we went to. We may go so far, on special occasions, as to make people crowd around our laptop to witness "the funniest thing I've ever seen." But nothing can hope to resemble the thrill of hitting play on a video that is right now taking the web by storm, and realizing, as you wait a second for it to buffer, that you are what makes it a phenomenon.