MIT6: A Short History of Competing Futures

This year’s Media in Transtion at MIT was again yet another fantastic conference. A lot of interesting panels, lot of interesting people, and intriguing conversations… I came home with a lot ideas… In the next several blog posts, I will cover some of the soundbites that interested me most. This by no means is a comprehensive summary of the conference.

Jean Burgess’s and Joshua Green’s upcoming book entitled YouTube:Online Video and Participatory Culture
was presented in one of the panels. I have to admit that I immensely enjoyed it. Partly because I believe that we need more credible research on these emerging Web platforms.

Specifically, Burgess and Green discuss the ways YouTube relates to wider transformations in culture, society, and the economy. According to them, the book critically examines the debates surrounding the site, demonstrating how it is central to the struggles for authority and control in a new media environment. They claim that their book “Drawing on a range of theoretical sources and empirical research, [discusses] … how YouTube is being used by media industries, by audiences and amateur producers, and by particular communities of interest, and the ways in which these uses challenge existing ideas about cultural ‘production’ and ‘consumption.’ This is a much needed research that explores the cultural ramifications of YouTube.

What is equally attractive is Henry Jenkins’ Afterward to the book, “What came before YouTube?” where he discusses how fan culture had already been creating user-generated content thirty years prior to the inception of YouTube and the site did not just emerge out of the blue. Using various quotes, Jenkins demonstrates that the intellectual environment was ripe for the emergence of YouTube. Needless to say, I will be assigning this reading to my students who seem unable to remember anything that came before YouTube.

He notes several challenges of the platform though. According to him, one of the biggest challenges is that videos that are stripped out of context lose their meaning and can be understood in inappropriate contexts. He cites slash ficiton videos as examples to explain this point. A video where Kirk gets raped by Spock, for example, loses its significance and becomes a funny moment for YouTube viewers who are not familiar with the conventions of slash fiction and are unfamiliar with the genre. Thus he states that the problem becomes how the figure out how to send the context along with the content. He also notes that the minorities are blatantly absent from YouTube not because they don’t upload videos, but because these videos don’t get enough views and make it to the top-viewed videos list, thereby making them invisible so-to-speak.

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