Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Diving into Web 2.0

Recently I watched a video by anthropologist Michael Wesch, which discusses YouTube as a cultural phenomenon. Is YouTube part of a surge of democratic media or a wasteland of disorder? That is the question. (Image: YouTube) The video by Michael Wesch is a relatively simple capture from a live presentation at the Library of Congress. However, the fact that we can access this video speaks to the power of YouTube as a platform. Before YouTube, finding a video of a specific presentation would have been nearly impossible. Now almost everything is on YouTube or similar services.

The most important point to take from the discussion of YouTube as a cultural item is that it depends on its users to create and (sometimes) filter content. Wesch describes in detail how social sites like Digg and Delicious represent a new level of user control over their portal to the internet. Digg displays user-filtering, while Delicious shows user-organization. Both of these functions work to create a communal browsing experience that depends on users not just for content, like YouTube, but also to define the collective browsing experience.

The Internet user-generated movement has outpaced growth of any other movement; dwarfing the amount of TV content produced by networks over their entire life. In some ways it seems like we isolate ourselves more and more behind screens, but, as Wesch points out, there is a type of networked individualism that emerges. We are creating an individual experience, but we share it and take-in the experiences of others.

The YouTube culture is one of paradoxes. We are isolated, yet part of a community. We are talking to no one, but talking to everyone. We "pirate" content, yet create new things. Our individual experiences turn into collectively embraced internet phenomena. Everyone has an identity, but it might not be rooted in reality. These uncertainties make YouTube a cultural community that serves a different purpose to all of its participants. With either serious or playful motives, everyone seems to enjoy YouTube.

Here's his video for anyone interested: