Sunday, 1 November 2009

Media in the online age; Web 2.0: The anthropology of the web

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be at a presentation in Liverpool by American professor of anthropology, Michael Wesch. I had seen some of his work previously on Youtube, but when I heard him speak in person and show the research he and his students had done about online video, it struck me that this is something that A level students should really be looking at.

Wesch works at the Kansas State University, where he lectures to as many as 200 students at a time. He manages, though, to involve his students in massive collaborative projects to explore what's going on. In this video, he collaborated with 200 of them to look at what they think of their education.



Though their experience in the USA may be rather different from yours in the UK, many people will, I am sure, recognise something in what they are saying. Wesch's video essay 'The Machine is us/ing us' gives a tour of the implications of this thing we call Web 2.0, a concept with which you need to be familiar for the A2 exam and something you are encouraged to make use of for your coursework.



A much longer video, but one which is really worth watching, features Wesch doing a presentation in the US, making use of the video research which his students had put together. Even if you don't have time to watch the whole thing, have a look at the first seven minutes, where he discusses the phenomenon of the Numa Numa viral video. You will probably have seen this- the guy miming along to the irritating Europop hit, which was then copied endlessly by other people posting videos on Youtube. Wesch points out that in 2004, when the guy sang into his webcam, it was quite difficult to post video on the web; then in 2005 along came youtube which made it incredibly easy; now it is hard to imagine a time when we didn't have youtube! The presentation goes on to look at some other global web phenomena which are also examples of UGC (user generated content- in other words DIY videos). Think about other videos that you have seen that have spread like wildfire- the star wars kid, chocolate rain, chuckling baby..how did you hear about them? Where did you first see them? what have you seen since that echoes or responds to those videos?





There is an excellent episode of South Park which makes use of some of these web heroes- 'canada on strike'. The boys go to collect their reward for their own internet stardom and a massive fight breaks out in the waiting room amongst the internet stars.

In a random search, I found this pie chart of youtube use, which struck me as a bit surprising:



It suggests that youtube use is evenly distributed across age groups; maybe this is accounted for by the ban on youtube which so many schools have, thus stopping teenagers from accessing it! Figures relating to who uploads videos to youtube probably look very different- see if you can find out what sort of people are doing the uploading.

Youtube, whilst a useful resource in itself for media students and teachers, also makes an excellent topic of study in its own right, particularly for the exam units Media in the online age, WeMedia and Global media. It would be worth comparing some of the stats you can find on Youtube's homepage with those for other forms of social media, like facebook and twitter, to see who is using them; it would then be worth considering how they use them; Wesch talks about social media as potentially democratic forms, particpative by nature and leading to greater degrees of social activism and political participation. But if that participation just consists of adding another performance of Numa numa or a comment on a dramatic look from a small animal, is that really an advance for democracy?

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