March 11, 2015
Few websites possess the ability to grow as furiously and as quickly as YouTube has since its creation in February of 2005. What started out as a project to create a video based dating site saw its creators make the life-changing decision to change the website to a destination purely for sharing and watching videos. The inability to find a video of Janet Jackson’s infamous Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction and the problems contributed to sharing video files over email influenced the creation of one of the most widely used and most popular internet databases the world has ever seen (1).
When a new media, such as YouTube, is introduced, it is not easy to analyze until it has run its course for a number of years. With YouTube passing the decade mark since its inception (2), it now holds the ability to be looked at on a deeper level consistent with the likes of social media mega sites. Thanks to the immense nature of the website, there are many different viewpoints one can take when approaching the subject. However, there is a fundamental fact that remains true from all views; the creation and growth of YouTube has changed the way people see the world.
One of the most obvious observations when in the process of analyzing is that YouTube is an archive; it holds videos from the past unless deleted by the uploader or flagged and taken down for violation of terms and policies. However, the site is much more than a simple archive for videos. Videos can possess the power to exhibit an archive of feelings. Especially with many of the videos hosted on the site being related to history, sports, or current world issues, the viewer has no problem connecting with the material. Likewise, if there is a video that revitalizes past experiences or memories of emotional previous events, a nostalgic effect is likely to occur. This specific database of videos is not only an archive for the moving pictures, but also an archive for feelings and emotions through which one may have gone. In fact the example of YouTube is very relatable to Ann Cvetkovich’s An Archive of Feelings. For instance, on the very first page of the introduction, she mentions something interesting about music; “The music helps return the listener to the pleasures of sensory embodiment that trauma destroys.” This sense of escape is not unique to music. Instead, the same effects can be experienced when surfing through different videos. YouTube is not just an archive that holds videos, it also assists the user to access their archive of feelings related to the videos they watch.
In a much different, yet equally interesting, approach of one of the most prominent websites today, one can look at self-representation on YouTube. As the internet has become something most claim they cannot live without, the digital self has become a larger issue. It is extremely easy to present oneself as somebody or something they are not. In some instances, the ease of changing one’s qualities can have a positive effect. However, more common is the case where the opposite occurs. Undeniably, many YouTube users abuse the abilities that online representation has allotted them. Now, there are two basic, distinct groups on virtually every video posted to YouTube. There are the creators of the video, and there are the commenters that follow. Many of the popular videos seen by millions of people are the videos that contain dangerous or ridiculous stunts. Obviously, if there was no camera to document these actions, if there was no drive to get millions of hits on YouTube, the creator most likely would not take part in such an outrageous, sometimes health threatening action. They change their process of decision making and change how others see them because they desire to create content to post. As far as commenters go, well, they have anonymity unless they voluntarily forfeit that option. As a result of this anonymity, a large group of people who use the comment sections choose to not use any filter. Thoughts are posted that would likely not be expressed if a true identity was known. Sometimes the motive is to share an opinion one truly believes in. Other times, the motive is to simply cause an argument or to upset others reading the comment. Either way, the available anonymity drastically alters online self-representation. Noted in the essay Studying the Digital Self, “The expanding range of virtual environments makes identities increasingly manipulable.” YouTube is a prime example of this statement.
Even though a long list of examples as to why YouTube has a negative effect on society, there are stronger arguments in favor of a positive overall effect. First and foremost, YouTube creates an impressive global village. Of course, Marshall McLuhan wrote extensively on this subject and noted how the radio also created such a situation. However YouTube takes the concept of a global village to the next level. With the capability to share important issues to those outside city, state, and national borders with pictures and videos, those receiving the information more easily connect to the issues. Thanks to this, they have a deeper understanding of the current events of the world. Not only does the viewer know more about what is going on, but they also are more emotionally invested in the events. For instance, seeing videos of a protest or political movement can convey the struggles of the oppressed to those across the globe. There is a natural human sense to help those in need. Visual representation of the problems of others only enforces this need to extend a hand. According to Pew Journalism Research Center, approximately twenty-one percent of all YouTube videos are related to politics in one way or another (3). This high percentage of videos related to politics, along with political issues being one of the most commonly debated topics of everyday life, causes the creation and growth of a community who rely on YouTube to receive their news. The majority of their opinions and knowledge are formed from a single website hosting seemingly endless amounts of videos on any subject imaginable.
Statistically, approximately seventy-nine percent of all videos remain for other topics not related to politics. A common mistake may be to conclude that the video not containing dialogue based on crucial international events leads to the viewership being completely domestic. This is rarely the case for any video with a decent amount of views. It is reasonable to say videos that are not politically driven are more likely to navigate the web more quickly than their counterparts. Many people log onto the site to get an escape from the world; they want to forget the problems they face on a daily basis. Many of these problems are also related to politics. When turning to this expansive database to gain an escape, many users, despite nationality or latitude and longitude, enjoy the same type of videos. For this simple reason, the global village aspect of YouTube does not stop at political troubles or successes; it continues on to enjoyment. The mixture of cultures is being seen in a way that has never previously been possible. Not only are the videos able to connect different people from all over the world based on interests, but scrolling through the comments creates a sense of unity. There are many different languages seen all talking about the same subject; it brings people together. No matter if it is a cat playing with a baby, or a protest in a nation on the other side of the world, the sharing of videos brings a sense of unity between people who would have never interacted in any way if it was not for YouTube being a worldwide phenomenon.
One tangible aspect of YouTube not mentioned so far is that of new opportunities. There are endless opportunities created by the immense size and convenience of the site. Some of these opportunities are more obvious than others, but all were not born until February of 2005 and the creation of the world’s second largest search engine. With more than one billion unique visitors, the growth has exceeded the expectations of even the founders (2). As well as this crowd helping to create new modes of advertisement, there are new chances for individuals. Rising to success and fame after being discovered on YouTube is not uncommon. Either with talent, specific skill sets, or other attractive qualities, a company or agency can find somebody on YouTube and turn the posting of videos into unforeseen success in the real world. However, an exhilarating rise is not always the goal. Sometimes the creation of YouTube content is meant solely for enjoyment, but it can also be used as a legitimate career path. With the YouTube partners program providing monetary compensation for different conditions of a video, such as view count and ads in the videos, it is possible for more popular YouTubers to lead extremely successful lives by simply creating and posting videos on a regular basis. It is estimated that the most popular YouTubers make upwards of five million dollars annually (4). The site has truly created a new field of jobs that simply did not exist ten years ago.
YouTube is still a relatively new media and it is still growing rapidly. However, in the past ten years since its creation, it has fundamentally changed many aspects of the lives of many. From creating a global village to representing oneself online to creating new career opportunities, the impact YouTube has already left on the world is more substantial than ever thought possible. New ways of communicating and learning are now possible thanks to an idea for a dating site that turned into much, much more.
(1) Elliott, Amy-Mae. “10 Fascinating YouTube Facts That May Surprise You.” N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2015
(2) YouTube Statistics. YouTube, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.
(3) “Is YouTube a Good or Bad Influence on Society?” Mic. N.p., 06 May 2012. Web. 03 Mar. 2015.
(4) Jacobs, Harrison. “We Ranked YouTube’s Biggest Stars By How Much Money They ” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 10 Mar. 2014. Web. 03 Mar. 2015