Thursday, March 11, 2010

Anthropology of YouTube

Well, I'm glad I took up the suggested task of watching the video, Anthropology of YouTube (on YouTube, of course). It was well worth the time spent. I was unaware that the creator, Michael
Wesch, was the same man who made the Web 2.0 video we watched for Thing 1, until he mentioned it in his presentation. His work is thought provoking, asking more questions than it can possible answer. His philosophical reflections on the nature of culture and identity in light of new media are thoughtful, if sometimes stretched to the point of incredulity or at least over dramatized.

Several points in the video really struck me. The first is the notion of context collapse, the idea that whatever is posted to the internet can (and probably will) be interpreted and misinterpreted outside of its original context. When you recording yourself and others, you never know where that will end up. The Star Wars kid is the poster child for context collapse, I suppose. The kind of negative publicity given to the words and actions of political figures, movie stars, etc. can now be directed at ordinary people through mediums like YouTube.

A second interesting point was the collapse of the distinction between public and private space and time. User generated content is often created in private spaces, even people's bedrooms, but then broadcast on the internet, making our most intimate spaces accessible to the global village. Through Vlogs and the like, people are simultaneously alone and connected.

Another interesting dimension of YouTube that Wesch remarks on is the nature of the commentary (which could have been directed at the commentary on other forms of new media as well). He notes that the distance and anonymity of participating in web communities decreases social anxiety, allowing people to express themselves in ways they might other censor, which also leads to a public platform for expressing hatred. Anyone who has ever witnessed the work of trolls on a forum knows exactly what he is talking about. This is a trend I find particularly disturbing.

One question I would raise with Professor Wesch is his use of the term collaboration. Typically, we think of collaboration in terms of a mutually voluntary effort. Yet he speaks of collaboration among people who are not aware that collaboration is occuring. When you post something to the web, you know it is possible that someone else will take your work and alter or "remix' it to create something new. Can the original contributer really be said to be collaborating in that effort, however? That is like saying that Shakespeare is collaborating in my video if I quote from his plays. I'm not sure borrowing another's work without their knowledge makes them a collaborator in a meaningful sense, even with the increased possibilities for sharing ideas, pictures, videos, etc. on the internet.

1 comment:

  1. One difference I see, in terms of collaboration, is that in the day of Shakespeare there was little or no thought that his works would be quoted. Wesch lives in an age in which collaboration is almost the norm. I believe he intended to get people taking (collaborating), even if he was no longer involved in the conversaton.