Part One is here.
Yesterday was about using software for The Other Use. Now to conclude the series by discussing what on Earth happened to YouTube.
YouTube was initially meant to be grassroots TV. It was offered as an alternative to broadcast, cable, and everything else that was already swamped in corporate ownership. In the spirit of the Internet, YouTube was supposed to be By The People, For The People. It was meant to make it easier for ordinary people to share videos with one another. However, YouTube has succumbed to some of the same pitfalls as regular TV.
While YouTube still fulfills its primary purpose, its most popular videos are the Lowest Common Denominator. That’s fine, but it’s worth taking note of. Even if you can use YouTube for whatever you want, regardless of what’s popular, please note that the videos with the most views are successful for the same reasons that regular TV is successful.
One, many of the top videos ARE professional productions. People upload TV and movies*, whereas YouTube was initially meant only to host user-generated content. Some professional TV, film, and music companies have decided to head users off at the pass by uploading their content themselves. Again, that’s fine, if YouTube has limitless virtual “space,” but lets remember that VEVO music videos have their place already on MTV and Much Music. If there was a limited amount of space,** then we’d have a problem.
Two, many of the top videos are only popular because the thumbnail depicts either an attractive young woman in a low-cut shirt, or a guy about to fall off his bicycle, or a distressed teenager who anonymous trolls can easily harass in the comments. Humanity, this one is your fault.
I’m not saying that everything By The People, For The People must be pure and good. However, YouTube was created and adapted with high hopes. We have a platform for speaking to the world, and yet local independent news, well-informed rants, tutorials, indie performances, and general messages of positivity are not getting the attention they deserve – especially when compared with Dude Falls Off Bike. The content is there; the audience is not. My guess is that we are rather scattered when it comes to intellectual interests but there is always the chance that people will rubberneck when some poor guy goes pavement-surfing.
So, is YouTube being purposefully Used For The Other Use? It has certainly carved out a niche for itself in modern culture. It was never intended to be a broadcaster for professionally made TV, and yet, because many young people cannot afford TV sets and/or cable subscriptions, YouTube has filled that accidental niche as well. YouTube was meant to be a conveyance of user-created content. It is perhaps a little sad that the only UCC that goes viral are cute pet videos or people trolling Chocolate Rain and the Star Wars Kid. One would hope that such a powerful tool would be used for teaching one another how to do things, or informing one another of political events around the world, or sharing opinions and debating them in a mature fashion. If you dig around, that stuff is in there, but it’s not really getting the attention it should.
Maybe this has something to do with humans’ shared shallowness and division when it comes to deeper and more interesting topics.*** Maybe there is something going on with Page Rank since Google bought YouTube in 2006. I don’t know. In any case, YouTube is an interesting example of what happens when you offer Everything to Everyone and let Everyone control it.
That concludes my exploration of things that have been Used For The Other Use, but please, keep your eyes open for other situations where it happens. When things are used differently than how their creator intended, that opens up a new set of possibilities, and possibly indicates where the next trend is going to happen.
Remember that, despite what we set out to create or experience, there is always something we cannot anticipate. Whether people are purposefully building something new or just messing around, there is a lot to gain when we step back and realize that the tools we have at hand can be used for more than one purpose. Using something for The Other Use does not imply fickle audiences or shortsighted creators. It’s a purely good thing that we look for alternate ways to use and enjoy what we have. After all, if ancient apes hadn’t experimented with The Other Use of bones and sticks, we might all still be living in trees. Which is a bummer, because it’s hard to charge an iPhone up there.
*They’re not supposed to, but they do.
**and, please keep in mind, there IS a limited amount of possible audience share.
***There’s that issue of audience share again.