“An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube” by Michael Wesch – Response to Key Reading



Within Michael Wesch’s presentation at the Library of Congress on 23rd June 2008, he discussed the users of the fast growing company, YouTube by focusing his examples mainly on “vloggers” (people that create/produce a video blog or “vlog”).

One of the first quotes that interested me from this talk was when Wesch described this new medium as a growing community. “It’s a celebration of new forms of empowerment. Anyone with a webcam now has a stronger voice and presence. It’s a celebration of new forms of community, and types of community we’ve never really seen before, or global connections transcending space and time. It’s a celebration of new and unimaginable possibilities.

This section of the talk also seemed to interlink well with Neil Postman’s discussion surrounding Inanity in his “Bullshit and the Art of Crap Detection” article. This digital era allows smaller voices to appear stronger, and be heard, through the evolving social media networks or communities. As an example, Twitter incorporates a “Retweet” option, which allows you to share a comment or Tweet to your followers. This can then be “retweeted” a number of times, and can easily pass through this digital community like wildfire.

Another theory that Wesch discussed was that of “Context Collapse”. “Every time you talk, you’re sizing up the context. And in this case, you don’t know what the context is; you can be launched into many different contexts. We don’t actually know what’s going on and this is what we come to call Context Collapse.”

As mentioned previously, this large community that has been introduced through the ever-changing Internet can also lead to the collapse of context. Although people may be posting something in the here and now, the context of the post can later be adapted and changed to fit the requirements of the viewer. For example, going back to Twitter, a recent trend of “Indirect Tweeting” is where an individual can openly complain about one of their followers without identifying them within the tweet itself. However, if the individual that the tweet was about brings this up, the author of the tweet can quite easily change the context behind the comment as there is no viable evidence to prove its original context.

The final portion of this talk that highly interested me was discussing that of a hyper self-awareness and authenticity crisis. Although mentioned separately, the hyper self-awareness that Wesch identified as occurring, and the authenticity crisis on YouTube are very much linked. This is because, the authenticity crisis can mean two things:

  1. Because of the platform that the vloggers are presenting to has increased globally, some people may want to appear differently
  2. This large global community is the opportune moment for social studies about self and identity

Wesch also mentioned an authenticity crisis example of LonelyGirl15. LonelyGirl15 appeared to be a normal, everyday vlogger who was soon identified as being a plot behind a soap opera that used this secretive technique. Later, once the truth was out, the creators of LonelyGirl15 stated: “LonelyGirl15 is a reflection of everyone. She is no more real or fictitious than the portions of our personalities that we choose to show (or hide) when we interact with the people around us.

People really aren’t who they seem on the Internet.