Youtube through an anthropological lens…..

Michael Wesch delivers yet another insightful analysis of the emerging media landscape through analyzing YouTube.  This video is now seven years old and as such, YouTube has changed somewhat.  Youtube content creators have gotten more ‘creative’, technology has improved so that even amateurs can produce higher quality videos, Youtube is much more commercialized and not as ‘grassroots’ as in 2008, and the novelty of video blogs has waned (or so I think).  Even so, Wesch underscores a number of ways Youtube has and is transforming human connections.  He raises some ideas that I’d like to explore in-depth in this course.

Media Mediates Human Relationships

Wesch claims that media has a mediating function around the 12:10 mark of the video.  I have never personally connected ‘media’ with ‘mediate’.  If anything, I’ve heard shrill warnings about how Youtube, social media, and the smartphone revolution has caused us to be more isolated, rather than connected.


If anything, technology makes it possible for us to deny the presence of the people in close proximity to us.  I have been in a coffee shop working on my homework and looked up to discover several individuals in their own ‘pods’; staring at computer screens, talking on a phone, listening to music with ear buds, reading a book.  We might be a few feet away from another customer, but we might as well be millions of miles part from them.  At best, we might take part in what sociologist Erving Goffman called civil inattention.  For example, we move our table slightly in a crowded coffee shop to accommodate someone who has just entered and has nowhere else to sit.  I realize that this a glass-half-empty view of new technology, but I’d like to know more about how social media and personal devices are affecting our interpersonal communication.  Will we have the capacity to speak to strangers in public or will we ‘act out’ online and ignore those close to us?  I’d like to learn more in this course about the affect of technology on face-to-face human interaction.

Connection Without Constraint

Wensch makes a powerful observation around the 30:49 mark about how Youtube satisfies the very human need for connection without the fear of judgement.  We can sense an ‘aesthetic arrest’, a sense of profound connection with another human, by watching the uploads to Youtube.  People share their darkest secrets, lip-sing to their favorite songs, and share vignettes of their lives with others.  Wensch posits that YouTube is a microcosm of our culture in that we can see manifested our cultural tensions.  He shows a list of these tensions, which I took a screenshot of, below:


These tensions really resonated with me.  I think that YouTube illustrates a point made by Robert Bellah in his book, Habits of the Heart, which was published nearly 30 years ago.  Americans (and now the whole world) lives in tension between individualism and a desire for community.  YouTube provides a niche community where people who are molded by their perceptions of themselves and the perceptions of others (i.e. looking glass self).  They can meet like-minded people in a non-threatening environment.  While this can be an opportunity to publicly perform acts of hatred (like trolling comments and insulting other users), there is a lot of potential for YouTube and other social media platforms to foster authentic(?) relationships between people.

For the purpose of this class, I’d like to know some strategies for creating online community.  I think that with other class’s Facebook page, we have begun to do just that. But what about online teaching scenarios with students who are skeptical or less than excited about being part of a community?  From my online teaching experience, I find that many students would just as soon take classes online as they see my class (intro. to sociology) as a means to an end – a needed elective for their degree.  They do the minimal amount of work necessary and don’t see themselves as members of a learning community.  Others would like to take classes face-to-face, but cannot due to disability. lack of transportation, or long work hours.  How can we bring all learners in online settings to a place where they feel comfortable expressing themselves?  How do we articulate the ‘rules of engagement’ for online learning and online discourse?  How can make learners aware of their learning community, of which they are ideally interdependent with other learners, in the absence of a physical classroom?  I’d love to learn more about this!


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