YouTube – Generation Me or Generation Us?

From its inception in 2005 YouTube has grown exponentially to become the world’s biggest video sharing website. In May 2010 there were over 2 billion views per day on YouTube and TakeNoGlory states that YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world with over 100 hours of footage uploaded every 2 minutes…so pretty big! See

Despite it’s early and rapid success as a business by attracting viewers, subscribers and advertisers it quickly, and not undeservedly, got a mixed press.

Lev Grossman quipped in Time Magazine in December 2006 that “YouTube makes you weep for the future of humanity just for the spelling alone, never mind the obscenity and the naked hatred“. Out of context you would assume that this article lampoons YouTube but actually it lauds it as a Web 2.0 social phenomenon for the greater good, a great “experiment”.  Take a look, it is worth a read!,9171,1570810,00.html

In 2009 the Guardian defined the comments posted by YouTube users as;

Juvenile, aggressive, misspelled, sexist, homophobic, swinging from
raging at the contents of a video to providing a pointlessly detailed
description followed by a LOL, YouTube comments are a hotbed of infantile
debate and unashamed ignorance – with the occasional burst of wit shining

Guardian 2009

…so not much has changed in the last few years! I quick trawl of YouTube comments will evidence this.

This seeming lack of humanity that clouds over YouTube is one of the site’s most negative aspects. In Wesch’s lecture on the The Machine is Changing Us: YouTube and the Politics of Authenticity, he attributes this to what he refers to as context collapse in that comments are often made anonymously and without responsibility because the same social mores that we apply in F2F social settings do not apply online. He believes that this narcissistic disengagement stems from the impulsive search for identity and creation. Personally, I find this very unsettling but perhaps this is the media ecology that Wesch is trying to extrapolate: when the media changes the conversations change and the situatedness of YouTube, the semiotic domain that Gee (2009) refers to promotes and cultivates this shared dialogue whether it be idiotic banter, defamatory remarks, crass comments or nonesensical quips. This “captive culture” is not quite the vision Orwell rebuked in 1984 although YouTube undoubtedly does have its own captive audience.

But I am being harsh. I am merely what Gee (2009) terms as an “outsider” in this affinity group. I watched The Machine is Changing Us with awe and some degree of disappointment that I was not one of the crowd, that I don’t feel that “craving” to be a part of that semiotic domain and I asked myself why because YouTube crosses boundaries in that those who upload videos to YouTube for whatever reasons cut across cultural, social, religious and generational groups. The more I explore Web 2.0 the more I try to unpick the paradox that I am looking at myself on the other side of the digital divide – that is, the conventional side! Tufekci’s article on Grooming, Gossip, Facebook and MySpace (2008) considers the differences between those who do and those who don’t engage in the expressive internet. Perhaps my disinclination for “gossip, people-curiousity and small talk” (Tufekci, p.546) puts me at a disadvantage in accumulating social capital? Not sure if I want social capital actually? However, I would love to spend more time on YouTube. I have been a registered user for several years. I subscribe to various channels, I use it for Teaching and Learning, I actively promote it amongst colleagues as an engaging, “interactive” teaching aid to encourage discussion and debate (look at what we are doing now) but I just don’t have the time although it is the first port of call if I am looking for a technical tip or short instructional guide to unfamiliar software. Like Flickr however there is an awful lot of rubbish to sift through before you find a gem and that is perhaps my problem – patience!

Another bug bear of mine is that not all the content is clearly legally uploaded into YouTube. Every user has to declare on uploading files that they are not breaching copyright but you only have to check some of the content taken from music videos, movies and T.V programmes to know that this is taken with a pinch of salt.

The flip side of the coin, is that YouTube can be profound, inspiring, motivational and even heart warming and if we focus on the democratic power of YouTube and its ability to inform an audience of potentially billions then therein lies its power.

Please do watch this to the end.

Most colleagues whom I sent this to responded that it was “powerful”. I am hoping that we can use it in discussions on equality and diversity.

I subscribe to the CEOP videos to share the eSafety message with tutors and learners and use these extensively as they are powerful catalysts to leverage discussion on difficult subjects such as cyberbullying, sexual grooming and sexting. I have designed whole lesson around such videos. This is one of my favourites to highlight eResponsibility and eCitizenship.

Recently, YouTube and Twitter played significant roles in the Arab Spring uprising which is why so many countries have tried to ban them. Evidence of atrocities recorded on mobile phones that have been quickly uploaded to YouTube in the heat of the moment have informed news coverage of world events. It is not uncommon to see this raw footage broadcast by big media corporations on our T.V – many hours after the event. For me, this is the saving grace of YouTube, the simple power to inform.

Did you know that You, yes YOU, reading this now have been awarded (back in 2006) Time Magazine’s Person of the Year! Why? Because as Les Grossman states:

“It’s about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for  nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the  world changes”. Lev Grossman, Time Magazine, 25-12-2006

Read more:,9171,1570810,00.html#ixzz1d9iFgaCm

Gee, (2009) Learning in Semiotic Domains: A Social and Situated Account [Online]

Tufekci (2008) Grooming, Gossip, Facebook and MySpace

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