Pay Attention to YouTube!

I’m on a bit of a Marshall McLuhan kick this week, with YouTube’s acquisition to Google still in the air. And Kim Jong Il leaping up and down at the far eastern edge of the map: living, ridiculous proof that power is all about getting attention (Dumb and Dumber: starring Bush and Kim Jong Il). I don’t think Robin Williams could’ve scripted a better skit; nor the South Park team have animated it any better than Kim did himself. Let’s all pay attention to lonely wittle Kim Jong Il.

But back to our original news… YouTube. Why did Google take it when they had their own video service? Because Google’s wasn’t as popular. And why not? Because Google approached video as information. Youtube saw it as television.

This is not about videos, it’s about television, and the future of television most importantly. Which will be why Sumner and Ballmer and Murdoch are still awake at night unsure of whether they just were too stingy. Marshall McLuhan claimed that television was a social medium. Film was not. YouTube is the present-day television, not television. YouTube, aptly named, since “You” (= My) and Tube (= Television) precisely describe television’s reconfiguration in the Communication Age. Yes, and MyTube would’ve sounded a bit weird. But MyTube would’ve seemed a bit, well, narcissistic (ah, the truth about teenagers and MySpace is written in the name!). And it would’ve missed the function of Communication as it’s applied to television. Since television is configured as a broadcast medium, it’s reconfiguration is as a communication medium. MyTube would’ve missed the point. YouTube captures it: television communicates only if it’s seen by others with whom one is communicating (namely, one’s friends, or social network).

The social aspect of television is the reflection: to see others seeing what you’re seeing. To share the experience of watching. Well, we don’t often watch television that way any more. Sharing couches and armchairs, turned and tuned into the same network broadcast, primetime, dinner tray, dog splayed out on the floor thinking it’s all about him. We live in a play-shifted, time-shifted day and age in which communication is as likely to happen asynchronously as it is to happen at all: that is, over the internet and not face to face. YouTube is about watching socially, but of course from one’s own computer, out of synch in time, but in synch in terms of the content.

Google missed this because Google saw video as indexable, searchable, categorizable and taggable content. Flickr misses this because photos aren’t social (they’re a show and tell, which is a bit different because it takes the form of speaker/audience, not broadcast/audience). I watch you watching television. Television directs vision to itself but in the social context of watching together. There’s always at least a peripheral perception of others watching (Not in film — room’s too dark. Social’s not the point there. In fact movies open with a warning to turn off your cell phone. Most definitely not social…ah, but the experience is social, yes. But not the medium.).

The new generation doesn’t sit down to watch prime time tv together. It’s on YouTube, which provides the asynchronicity of experience, personaliz-ability of tags, uploading, favorites lists, channels, and a play duration much better suited to consumption than tv. Content in minutes, not half hour blocks. And played, of course, over the medium that’s mine, that’s mobile, that’s interactive, and that’s connected: the computer.

Google bought YouTube. Makes perfect sense.

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