TECH TASK #2: An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube
I had to do several drafts of this post, which is part of why it took so long. One of them was a big rant about how the world is coming to an end, which…well, I didn’t want to sound crazy, so I decided against posting that one. Maybe some other time, when my judgement is not as sound.
To be honest, this has been a bit of a daunting task. I could write an essay on any of ten or fifteen ideas introduced in this hour-long video, but I have to contain myself to a single blog post. Maybe I’ll go crazy with them later, but for now I wanted to just make note of a few of the ideas expressed there.
1) The first one comes from Lev Grossman’s quote, “Some of the comments on YouTube make you weep for the future of humanity just for the spelling alone, never mind the obscenity and the naked hatred.” In the outline on this tech task, Dr. Couros wrote ‘Anonymity can allow you to comment in a negative way without fear of repercussions,’ which I think is an interesting phenomenon that extends far beyond YouTube. It’s true that anonymity can have a negative effect on the way people behave, but I think that that doesn’t quite cover everything. For a long time, I think that a lot of people have viewed the internet as being some kind of far-off universe, separate from the one in which they live their day-to-day lives. Anonymous or not, on the internet people say and do and display things that they would never consider saying or showing in, say, a newspaper. The internet is so huge that anyone can see anything on it, and because anyone can see it, we often think that no one will – or at least no one who will recognize us or get us in trouble for what they see.
I’m quite interested to see where the future of humanity takes us, YouTube comments and all. That virtual universe we created for ourselves is starting to spill over into the real world more and more.
People are losing their jobs and reputations over the pictures on their Facebook pages. People are arranging social protests through Twitter and stopping governmental anti-piracy bills in their tracks through website blackouts. We can see wars and crimes and injustices happening thousands of miles away; we can have an effect on anything and anyone we want, if we so choose. And the virtual world is growing, growing every day. All I can really say is that wherever this path leads us, it’s going to be an adventure.
In the spirit of quotes, I would like to direct you to one of my favourite authors. In one of his many books, Mr. Terry Pratchett wrote, “Adventure! People talked about the idea as if it was something worthwhile, rather than a mess of bad food, no sleep, and strange people inexplicably trying to stick pointed objects in bits of you.”
….And that’s about all I have to say about that.
2) Another idea that intrigued me was that of ‘aesthetic arrest,’ which Mr. Wesch talked about when he mentioned video blogs, and how we are able to look at people and stare at them without worrying about how they will react and without making them uncomfortable. We are able to catch ourselves up in their human beauty; we are allowed to admire and study without reproach. This idea struck me largely because it feels like an invasion into my life. Both my younger sister and I are artists, and we have both come to the realization that the way we watch people is not considered socially acceptable. We like to look and examine their features and their hair and the textures of their skin. That makes those being observed uncomfortable. We live with it. We learn to watch surreptitiously, and we learn to live with the idea that anyone who knew they were being observed, even (if not especially) from an artistic standpoint, would find our behaviour rather…unsettling.
To anyone reading this who has met me: yes, I have examined you. I have noticed the shape of your eyes, eyebrows, nose, mouth, and jaw. I have noted the exact tones of your hair and skin and, at close range, the mingled colours of your eyes. There is no sexual undertone to this or even, in fact, an overly personal interest in you or in anyone else I look at. I simply find all human beings eminently beautiful. That includes you, and every other person I have ever met – young and old, male and female, of every race and creed. Aesthetic arrest is my base state of being.
I had never really considered the idea that others might feel the same way and be ashamed to admit it.
(I will understand if that makes anyone uncomfortable. If it makes you feel any better, there are thousands of people on campus. I may note those things about you, but there are too many people around for me to actually think about your individual features for too long. You are not being stalked.)
3) Another idea I would like to address is that of cultural inversion and tension. Namely, we express individualism, independence, and commercialization, but value and desire community, relationships, and authenticity. In face-to-face interactions, connection with others means constraint, so online we seek connection without having to be constrained. We want so much more than we are able to express, and so we seek to express that desire and craving in a place where no one will be able to recognize us, call us out and hurt us; mock us for our loneliness and for everything we feel we are lacking in our lives.
When Dr. Couros speaks, or when he shows videos and material to the class, I always catch myself thinking, “Wow…I want to live in YOUR world.” Because I don’t. I really, really don’t. He lives in the same world as Mr. Wesch – a world of networks and communities and virtual connection that I have seen from the outside but never been a part of.
I grew up in a small town. Many of the people I knew there spent their teenaged years waiting – angry and tired and lonely and impatient and frustrated – waiting to get out. It’s an old story. I know what I’m gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that. I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world! Except the world is a big, lonely place, and if you don’t know where to look, it can be difficult to find a niche in it.
In my small town, I knew a boy who was very much an individual: a strange and unique presence in our tiny world. Once he went around for a day with his friends and a ‘free hugs’ sign. After a few hours the police drove around, told him there had been complaints, and asked him to stop. I’ve never known anyone who needed a community and close relationships and authenticity more than him. We want so much more than we have, and most of us never get anything close to what we need. I think perhaps we’re all trying to escape our small towns, even if they’re only in our heads. That’s the world I live in.
I’d much rather be a part of YOUR world.
4) This is it; the last one.
I want to talk about piracy. In my mind, it’s all very simple.
In the video, Mr. Wesch said (or possibly quoted someone as saying) that our children are growing up constantly living life against the law, because almost everything we do online is illegal. What that tells me is that the world is changing, and the government is not changing with it. SOPA and PIPA were stopped this time around, but what about next time?
Governments (or at least democratic governments) are meant to serve the people. When that stops happening, you get revolution. Taking away our internet might not be the thing that does it, but they’re playing with fire if they try. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I know some very determined young people out there who would be more than willing to take up arms for the Internet Cause.
(For the record, I’m not advocating violence. But if the government – any government, really – wants to go head-to-head with the entire combined forces of the internet, they are going to have one heck of a fight on their hands.)
In the words of Edward Farrars: “Perhaps Margaret is right. Piracy is our only option.”
…Yes, I was the kind of child who collected quotes. I probably had a few thousand of them at one point. I have quotes for every occasion! Even piracy.
Try to contain your envy.