Michael Welsh (of The Machine is Using Us fame) gives us what might seem to be a definitive conclusion, or climax to his powerful anecdotes for the Internet to date. In his video of a presentation he made to the Library of Congress back in June 2008, Michael gives quite a moving account of the phenomenon within Youtube.
A few things trouble me though. Not so much as to want to discredit the video – it is an amazing video and I would love to take Michael’s courses.. but troubling enough for me to want to try and put some form to them here…
Even with Michael giving an account from a “world” view, the Youtube experience is (or has been) a predominantly US or North American experience. Sure, there are several references in the video to an international Youtube experience, and plenty that we can find at anytime, but it is centred around an American experience, company, values, ideas, expressions… I get more than a little uncomfortable when American’s talk about these experiences as though it is a world experience without even a hint of consciousness about that. I would even say that those of us that do engage in this experience but who are not American, are sympathetic to American ideologies in the first place and so are a kind of diaspora of American values and perspective. As Michael himself would have us think, the technology is shaping our communication, and this one has a strong American accent. I could be wrong, and this no doubt comes across as America bashing (which its not) I’m talking about a sensation I have while watching this video, and a general sense that American intellectuals (and bloggers) do not understand, have little experience of a world outside their own – yet talk in world terms. not a solid idea by any means. More obviously though, is that underneath it all (or over it all) is corporate America. Youtube. The American legal system, and American intellectuals like Michael and most of the people he quotes in the video.Not good or bad, just observable is all.
I would love to see Michael do similar work on other initiatives, like Wikipedia. But it wouldn’t be as profound as Youtube. Part of the emotional impact in Michael’s presentation has to do with the fact that we can easily see the faces and hear the voices of what he is talking about. But what he is talking about is not unique to Youtube. The memes he refers to are present in any other online community, as is the productivity. I would love to see such a study applied to Wikipedia and presented in this way – and not just the English Wikipedia if that was possible. The closest I have seen to date would have to be Jon Udell’s Heavy Metal Umlet
Anyway, this is hardly a well thought out post, sorry about that. The video is great, I was gripped from start to finish, and I think it is an important piece to reflect on in all this social new media scape we have now.