An anthropological introduction to YouTube

The video of the presentation I gave at the Library of Congress last month is finally ready. This was tons of fun to present. I decided to forgo the PowerPoint and instead worked with students to prepare over 40 minutes of video for the 55 minute presentation.

In case you want to skip around, or just want an overview of what the talk is about, here is a timeline:

0:00 Introduction, YouTube’s Big Numbers

2:00 Numa Numa and the Celebration of Webcams

5:53 The Machine is Us/ing Us and the New Mediascape

12:16 Introducing our Research Team

12:56 Who is on YouTube?

13:25 What’s on Youtube? Charlie Bit My Finger, Soulja Boy, etc.

17:04 5% of vids are personal vlogs addressed to the YouTube community, Why?

17:30 YouTube in context. The loss of community and “networked individualism” (Wellman)

18:41 Cultural Inversion: individualism and community

19:15 Understanding new forms of community through Participant Observation

21:18 YouTube as a medium for community

23:00 Our first vlogs

25:00 The webcam: Everybody is watching where nobody is (“context collapse”)

26:05 Re-cognition and new forms of self-awareness (McLuhan)

27:58 The Anonymity of Watching YouTube: Haters and Lovers

29:53 Aesthetic Arrest

30:25 Connection without Constraint

32:35 Free Hugs: A hero for our mediated culture

34:02 YouTube Drama: Striving for popularity

34:55 An early star: emokid21ohio

36:55 YouTube’s Anthenticity Crisis: the story of LonelyGirl15

39:50 Reflections on Authenticity

41:54 Gaming the system / Exposing the System

43:37 Seriously Playful Participatory Media Culture

47:32 Networked Production: The Collab. MadV’s “The Message” and the message of YouTube

49:29 Poem: The Little Glass Dot, The Eyes of the World

51:15 Conclusion by bnessel1973

52:50 Dedication and Credits (Our Numa Numa dance)



Associate professor of cultural anthropology. Ed Traceur. Hacker. Car-free.

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57 Responses

  1. I am going to try to emulate your model. I’m not as fearless as you; not sure I could ever recite my own poetry at the Library of Congress, or dance/lipsync to TI (love that song) and then broadcast it. I find the public space of blogging and YouTubing somewhat terrifying. I like to see my audience. But just as I ask my students to inhabit spaces of discomfort, challenging their taken-for-granted assumptions about the world, I guess it’s my turn to do the same. This semester a new adventure in active learning begins. Wish me luck.

  2. Soren says:

    I have been looking for ‘Digital Ethnography’ for some time now(sites in terms of anthropology on the web, virtual spaces etc.). And here it is :-).
    I’m a student in educational anthropology in Denmark (so you’ll have to excuse my englishea). My studypartner and I are currently doing our thesis on the educational project, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), which aim to provide a laptop to every child in the poor and remote ares’ of the world, to bridge the digital divide (one may close a digital divide, but there will always be a divide, culturally, educationally, economically, governly etc.). anyway…

    I did my fieldwork in an armchair in an office in Denmark, just by looking at my computer. I’m an armchair-anthropologist. Because of digital ethnography, I had to rethink armchair-anthropology. Fieldwork can be done in virtual spaces. But in this sense ”Virtual does not referer to ‘imaginary’ and ‘unreal’ spaces. Like the physical spaces, virtual spaces is just another (equal) form of space… real fieldwork in an ‘unreal’ field.

    You tube has provided me with lots of data. The difference is, that I’m not studying you tube connections, I’m studying connections on you tube (in part). My biggest problem is to set up digital walls. Every time I see an interesting web-site in terms of scope, another interesting link/video/site reveals it self. When my thesis is done, I have connected OLPC to the hole world-history, and every living being on this planet.. hmm

  3. Invictus_88 says:

    Having just finished watching the full video a bit over two years after it was first posted here, it’s proven again. Things online connect people through time.

    Incredible video.

  4. JustMe says:

    As a Media- and Communications Science student this was very interesting in many ways. And still valid after two years. Feels like it will be valid for at least another twenty. Thank you!

  5. Heather says:

    I had to watch this for an SLIS class at Kent State University, and I have to say, it made a profound impact on the way I think about vlogging and YouTube in general. Amazing, insightful, and well-constructed. Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. Naiobii says:

    Pretty upset to see that this vid was taken down.

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