Blog :: That's Remarkable

VID: YouTube is Changing Us

>> An anthropological introduction to YouTube | 55:34 | YouTube

Dr. Michael Wesch, dubbed "the explainer" by Wired magazine, is facinated by what's happening on YouTube and what it means for the human race.  He heads the Digital Ethnography project at Kansas State University, which tracks user behavior on YouTube and other forms of "new media".  Wesch points out that YouTube is doing more than providing a outlet for thousands of hours of otherwise useless home video.  It's adding fluidity to culture, establishing new global connections, starting movements, and redefining community.  Take an hour and dive into this facinating tour of the largest video community in the world and what it means.  It's well worth your time.

As with any discussion of trends, it's only interesting but not useful until we interpret what is means and what that means we should do.  These trends are important, not just for online video sites, but for everyone working with people, engaging culture, and developing community.

Community without Constraint. YouTube is born out of fundamental shift in the subterranian foundations of humanity.  People are seeking new levels of connection and collaboration -- they want to talk, play, and work together.  It's my opinion that this comes from big "root problem" or existential crisis of emerging generations: a increasingly globally connected but fragmented world.  Almost everyone believes community is required for our survival.  It is the only way forward (verses the extreme individualism of consumerism).  But we are not willing to return to old versions of community that limit individuality or impose social control.

Wesch calls this "community without constraint".  YouTubers put an electronic version of themselves out there, often divulging very personal information.  Anyone can watch, and most people don't mind.  They welcome interaction and contact, but they choose what the outcome will be and are not geographically or socially "stuck" to any relationship if things get uncomfortable or unproductive.

This means that we have to switch to "centered set" rather than "bounded set" thinking.  People will no longer listen to "institutional experts" or respond to simple "carrot and stick" conditioning.  They must be attracted, and they will only make committments as they move towards a gravitational center of their own choosing.

Provide Places to Listen. The web is no longer primarily a publishing platform where "talking heads" and authoritarian information sources push their points.  It's a martix of human interaction mirroring the real world and enhancing it (this is the transition between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0).  Who wants a friend who always speaks but never listens?  The YouTube community, starring with the unblinking concentration of a webcam, provides a listening place in a world where so little listening occurs.

YouTube has the numbers to prove that people want to be heard.  With over 65,000 videos uploaded daily and 100 million daily views [wiki], there is a direct cooralation between the popularity of the site and the empowerment of self-expression.  This underlying shift is powering major changes in expectations and emerging trends like comments and viewer reporting added to news stories on major media websites, the MySpace revolution of the entertainment industry, social networking platforms, and CNN's encouragement to watch presidential debates with your laptop.  Anyone who wants to have influence or a voice that can be heard should pay close attention: educators, marketeers, entertainers, journalists, and spiritual guides.

Strive for Autheniticity. People express real outrage when they uncovered fake YouTubers.  They could care less about video tricks or lies.  What really hurts is people that seem really real -- as real as any of us -- and then turn out to be a hoax.  It is a personal violation far beyond the humiliation of deception.  It makes everyone on YouTube a little less real.

This is the typical dilemma of our times.  The world is shrinking, life is speeding up, the powers are getting scarrier, and uncertainty is on the rise.  According to their over-arching story, the YouTube generation has little left to believe in except real people and real relational connections.  These are their morings -- the anchors of their reality.  Authenticity is the trust issue in any transaction: interpersonal, institutional, and material.  By authenticity, YouTubers and the Me Generation mean candor, transparency, grittiness, imperfection, and a spark of the inner spirit.

Use YouTube. Two innovations may be transitioning the masses of the West to "post-literacy": the camcorder/webcam and video sharing service.  You can find a demonstration of how to do almost anything on YouTube.  You can watch the best consumer-filtered TV.  You can learn history, join a cause, and bare your soul.  More people everyday are discovering this, and this means, if you want to connect to the audience of the future, it's never been more affordable or easier.

Take for example a minor anthroplogical researcher from a little known school in an obscure place.  What hope in the past would he and his students ever have of making a broad impact with their important ideas?  But now, 386,127 (as of 12:10AM 10/21/08) people have learned to think of YouTube in a new way that may introduce a healthy self-consciousness to something we take forgranted.  That's the incredible power of this new media.

Special thanks to my friend Miller Talbot who turned me on to this video and the great discussion that followed.