I YouTube, therefore I am

I suspect that you have figured it out by now – that I am always behind the eight ball. I am a little behind in everything – paying the bills, sorting my tax, finishing my work, teaching my children. I have a pile of books and papers beside the bed and other miscellaneous piles of this and that for sorting, fixing, attending to. The detritus of my everyday life doesn’t always fit into the third drawer down.

So it is no surprise that I am a little behind in my course reading (unlike a fellow blogger). As you all move on to the next topic, I am still digesting and reflecting on the previous.

For example, as I read your blogs I realise that not all of you are the digital natives that I first thought that you were. You are digital immigrants like me, although I am more like your first generation immigrant Italian Nonna, who wears all black and speaks barely a word of English.

It is a comforting thought that I am not alone. In fact, my age group is right up there with yours in terms of social media use. Believe me, it’s not me who is skewing the data.

Heck, I remember my first full-time office job during second year uni. I didn’t understand why the new secretary was crying. Turns out she had been a stay-at-home mum for fifteen years and was overwhelmed by the new electronic typewriter with a one-line memory. Compare that with my ten year old son Joey, who googled and installed Hypercam so he could record his avatar playing Runescape and upload it onto YouTube, complete with a song he downloaded from iTunes.

And that made me reflect on Matthew Wesch’s video “An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube” (which was hanging around my subconscious like an overdue DVD). I couldn’t help but feel a little bit scornful at the profundity of thought that he credits to YouTube and the webcam apparatus.

I mean, I get that with YouTube we can reappropriate culture, shape and control it and throw it back. And I get the bit about our inherent need for community and desire for strong relationships. But as a surrogate for the real thing? And as a tool for deep self-analysis?

For example, Matthew Wesch says of a girl who has spent five minutes deciding how to wear her hair (forming her “new identity, new mask – to her new community”) before sitting in front of her webcam:

… this self reflection happens while they’re looking through these webcams … there’s really this hyper-self awareness that’s developing as people are doing this … YouTube is a great place to study self and identity …

Because she spent five minutes deciding how to wear her hair? Does YouTube, through “rare and ephemeral dialogue”, really enable us to:

experienc[e] the sense of being totally overwhelmed by the beauty of the human in front [us]. Like people have this really profound deep connection with other humans through YouTube.

It’s all a bit pathetic really. It’s not just this first generation digital immigrant that feels this way. Even my 13-year old Louis felt saddened by the future predicted by American theoretical physicist Michio Kaku on “Visions of the Future” (Episode 1: Intelligence Revolution), where “the lines between our virtual fantasies and the physical reality will increasingly blur.”

The loss of connection with our community is so keenly felt and openly acknowledged that we spend hours on-line trying to reconnect. Pity those who aren’t able to get on-line in the first place. Think of the homeless, the mentally ill and other marginalised and disempowered groups. There’s lots of them. How do they connect, and how will they connect in the future if there is nothing to connect to?

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6 thoughts on “I YouTube, therefore I am”

  1. I agree with Wesch and Kaku. The Internet allows you to project yourself in whichever way you want, but I don’t accept that it will be a (good) tool for self-analysis. It’ll be like a second life almost. You can study a person’s identity by studying the image they try to project through self-portraits, behavior, or YouTube videos.

    As for the blurring of lines, I’ll give this example. One of my friends tends to post his deep thoughts on Facebook. When he posted a status about contemplating death, friends who responded felt worried, except one friend who said, “Don’t worry. He only posts this deep crap like this on FB.” I know that my friend is a deep thinker but won’t express it when he’s out or with certain friends.

    Side note: Now that I’m actually reading your blog with a clear mind, I realize that I like the way you write. It’s easy to follow and entertaining, weaving in elements from your life without sounding like a ramble.

    1. Thanks Esma. Just shoot me if I ever start to ramble!
      I do understand that YouTube (and Facebook) allows for a freedom of expression that some people would otherwise feel too inhibited to make in face-to-face communication. A vlog or a blog (or an online journal) offers the opportunity to dismantle the stifling mask/s that we sometimes feel compelled to present. I really don’t mean to sound too dismissive of the powerful effects of this liberation – I guess I just didn’t like Wesch’s examples of ‘self-reflection’ – it is a far cry from the psychotherapy and psycho-analysis that I have experienced. However, it is not to be sneezed at that people can express thoughts of suicide on-line (remember the MySpace incidents?) Maybe it is a call for help to a community that your friend knows won’t judge him? O dear, I think I am rambling now …

      1. I wonder if psychologists will attempt to use the Internet to help their clients. Based on a quick Google search, I understand that it’s used only as an educational resource, not yet for therapeutic purposes. Probably because therapy is usually anti-phone/tv/electronics except those that play soothing sounds… or offer some other form of healing through iPhone apps

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