Thursday, July 31, 2008

An anthropological introduction to YouTube

This video by Michael Wesch is a great overview of the upsides of peer production and the new social arrangements made possible by sites like YouTube. I am particularly fascinated by how Wesch remixes Lim's Us, a fanvid that I had taken very much to address itself to a particular interpretive community. (The relevant segment starts at roughly 43:40.) I think of Us as focusing on favorite fannish characters, not all of whom are major pop culture icons, and the "us" of the title as being specifically members of a creative remix community. Wesch, however, makes Us into everyone who uses YouTube, partly by mixing it with a Larry Lessig speech.

Though the Numa Numa video is a structuring device used throughout Wesch's presentation, Wesch doesn't bring in the IP issues--the first famous Numa Numa guy and everyone playing off of him are using the music without authorization--until the very end, though he then does make the point that unauthorized remix is at the core of much of this communicative and self-expressive ferment.

I did feel the presentation was overly tilted towards the optimistic side. Lots of human connection; very little mockery. But then, he's making a move in an argument, and there's no reason he ought to be required to make the case for the harms of peer production when many other people are quite willing to do it.

Wesch did point out that many of the videos weren't made for large groups to see, just for a few people. His use of Us was an example of what he calls "context collapse." Often when we see something bizarre on the internet, we don't stop and ask "well, is this for me?" Sometimes it's not bizarre to the group to which it's addressed. But it's often easier and more efficient to put that highly targeted production out there for anyone to find--the same dynamic that makes it easier and more efficient for Google to index as much of the web as it can rather than hand-selecting what's relevant to queries. Yet the social meaning of what it means for ontology to be overrated, or everything to be miscellaneous, is highly complex--not everyone will be happy with the associations created by dispersed, open, user-tagged information environments. I look forward to seeing more of Wesch's work on the bitter as well as the sweet of the connections forged by YouTube.

No comments:

Post a Comment