May 3, 2010 0
The two articles for this week’s reading addressed YouTube’s role in promoting a “participatory culture” in which individuals add, critique, and share media. This system largely alters the traditional model of large, conglomerated media giants. Keen’s condemnation of YouTube clashes sharply with the more Utopian vision of Burgess and Jean. Keen’s greatest critique of YouTube is that it has created, and provided the platform for, a frenzy of amateur videographers with little talent. Along with blogs and Wikipedia, these videos constitute a “dumbing” down and trivialization of longstanding professions such as journalism, film directing, and academics. He refers to amateur videographers numerous times as “monkeys” with technology but little vision. He concedes that some quality is produced amongst the chaos, only in that time and quantity produce lucky exceptions to the rule. His conclusion is that YouTube and the compulsion to self-broadcast will inevitably lead to total dissolution of information quality such that the idiots of the world will rule by majority. By contrast, Burgess and Jean see the participatory culture as something very much positive. They make the claim that YouTube was only the culmination of recent sentiments and trends that would inevitably end in something of the sort. However, YouTube centralized nature poses problems for their Utopian vision of the participatory culture. Their strongest point was that the size of YouTube defeats many less mainstream voices, thus diminishing its democracy. Although these undercurrents exist, they go relatively unnoticed in the greater scheme of YouTube. Their conclusion is that YouTube has structural characteristics that prevent it from becoming the ‘knight in shining armor’ for the spreading the “participatory culture.”
Personally, I felt that the Burgess and Green article gave a more fair view of situation. To me, Keen seemed to be a very bitter web critic who went on a 5 page diatribe to express his most heartfelt enmity towards YouTube. Keen attacked what I believe to be a minority of YouTube users, albeit a substantial minority. Claiming that YouTube users are just mindless monkeys who put anything and everything on camera sells short the rest of the users who could add culturally valuable content. Take for example a budding musician who uses YouTube to launch his career. Keen chooses to ignore this example and instead selects a random kid banging away senselessly on his instrument. It is true to say that YouTube is a willing host for ALL media, including very insignificant and stupid videos. However, some of these videos can be exceptionally funny for whatever reason. What is so bad about publishing a goofy video that people enjoy watching with no strings attached? To rebut Keen, I am much more optimistic about its ability to host culturally valuable video as well as support numerous other causes. This segues nicely into the Burgess and Green article, which recognizes the value in the “participatory culture” to increase activism and diffusion. I thought that the example of Peter Gabriel’s charity, Witness, was especially poignant in that it was a clear-cut example of how technology possesses the capability to raise awareness to social inequalities and how sites like YouTube can be so useful for disseminating the information. They do concede that given the nature of video sharing, the cause can become distorted through poor labeling and other issues. However, the power and potential still remains for much good to be done with YouTube. As such, it does not seem right to blame the whole for the lowest common denominator.