Tuesday, July 29, 2008

mwesch's Digital Ethnography Introduction to YouTube


(above: screenshot from MadV's "One World" campaign, via the wikiwiki)

One of my personal favorite thinkers working with emergent technology and culture right now, Professor Michael Wesch, has posted a new video on his YouTube account. He has previously tackled topics such as the meaning of Web 2.0 and technology's role in involving students in learning. His work inspired me to do my final senior thesis on Web 2.0 in secondary education (I can post that if there is an interest...).

And now Professor Wesch has released a new video, over here. This lecture and accompanying video presentation is intended to be an overview or introduction to the community that YouTube supports and has created. It makes sense, the video seems to be saying, that if YouTube is a community, anthropologists should be able to examine and think about this community. Thus, Prof. Wesch and his digital ethnography group tackled this task, and the result is summed up in the video. It's an hour long, but it's one hell of an hour.

The video also references some other fascinating user generated content in its exploration of YouTube as a culture and community. Some of the best examples are a cut-up tribute to remix and DIY culture set to a Regina Spektor song, a compilation video of various YouTubers displaying their distilled philosophies and mantras on the palms of their hands, and a particularly touching message from a community member that has found support within this community in a time of hardship, a time soon after the death of his infant child.

These examples are touching, life-affirming and often brilliant. The things that I love about YouTube are summed up in Prof. Wesch's talk on the community.

I offer one final entry to the overwhelming bestiary that is the multitude of flavors of community-building on YouTube: the Vlog Brothers. In a subsequent entry, I will talk more in depth about these guys, but here is one example. In this video, over here, writer John Green geeks out over "The Catcher in the Rye" and calls for an English-lesson-style online book club to talk about it. Not just an "I like it / I don't like it" discussion, but a literary analysis.

What is amazing about the video is not that John Green has the audacity to suggest that a group of people do a non-mandatory summer reading project on a classic book, but that people, as indicated in these video responses, will actually do it. People are looking forward to it.

So even Professor Michael Wesch can't begin to imagine the ongoing effects of our emergent technologies becoming our culture. That's why it's so fascinating; none of us can imagine it, but it's happening anyway, it's making a difference in how people live.

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