Social Media: The Renaissance Self-Expression and Community.. or is it?

I have spent the last few hours pondering what Micheal Wesch would say about the changes in spaces like Youtube and other social media since he made his video on Web 2.0 and his anthropological study of Youtube. Once upon a time, (though really it was not that long ago) vlogs and other personal videos were absolutely the predominant videos and content type on Youtube. Looking all the way back at 2006 we see much of what was being discussed by Wesch in simple user generated videos with just a few thousand views sitting on the front page.

youtube 2006 screenshot.png

Credit: Graphitas

I am sure if we used The Way Back Machine then we would see many response videos, even to these front page entries. If we take a peek at the front page of Youtube today, the field has completely changed. Every front page is tailor made for the person who is consuming the media, especially if you have any viewing history or an account linked to your Youtube habits.

Youtube Today.png

As you can see, the trending videos look like a Hollywood catalog; they are almost completely comprised of massive company sponsored channels or the titanic channels with hundreds of thousands of subscribers making professional content for our consumption. Now, I am not saying that this is necessarily bad, since millions of hours of entertainment have arisen from the ability of an individual to monetize their videos on Youtube, but the community of videos that was so exciting to Welsh ten years ago is dying if it is not completely dead already. It seems that a significant amount of social media is moving away from being a way of interconnectivity toward being a way to create or popularize a brand. Even my own Facebook feed has become more of a space to see updates from news and entertainment sites than just seeing what a friend is up to on any given day, resulting from giving a page or website a “Like.” Is there a new social media that has replaced this phenomenon? Maybe Vines? Snapchat? My experience with these new medias are limited so I have no real idea if those kinds of apps are filling this void.

Moving to a slightly different sphere, in “Examining Digital Literacy Practices on Social Network Sites,” Amber Buck examines what she calls, (finally…at the end of the article) “a rather extreme case of social network site use.” Throughout this study, her subject, Ronnie, is shown to be trying to make a “brand” much like the celebrities that we see on Twitter, Facebook, and other networking websites. I feel that this discussion is a bit disingenuous as a result because it is not indicative of most students practices on a social networking site. While we all create an online identity, I do not believe that most people are developing as complex rhetorical skills that Ronnie is displaying and Buck is discussing nor do I think most people are trying to generate fans and fame from their social media exploration. To me this kind of study just screams outlier case.

(As a side note her abstract mentions that the literacy practices we explore include navigating user agreements, which means that she thinks that many young adults read them.)


Now this is not to discount that rhetorical  and genre learning is going on and we as teachers cannot take advantage of that, but social media and how people, especially youth, interact with that media evolves faster than we can build data and studies on how to incorporate it into pedagogy and the classroom. We have read many papers examining Myspace, but that website is now a wasteland with most people’s profiles sitting derelict, an interesting photograph of our past social media lives. It makes me wonder how much of that study is still relevant as things so rapidly change. I am extremely interested in what the next few years hold and how social media and literacies will continue to evolve.

Will we see another website emerge to replace Facebook? Or has the evolution of social media begun to settle and slow down? If students are as active as Ronnie and I am just ignorant of this, then how might we best bring this to the forefront in the classroom?

I think I have rambled like a terrible cynic for long enough today. So I shall do what I always will and leave you all with an OC remix of the day. This is a remix by FoxyPanda of the famous “Aquatic Ambiance” Theme from Donkey Kong Country. Cheers!


3 thoughts on “Social Media: The Renaissance Self-Expression and Community.. or is it?

  1. Hey, Scott! Your blog hasn’t received a comment yet, and the videos (I love them!) you included are practically screaming, “Notice me, senpai!” I convinced myself to say something as a stab at your question, “Will we see another website emerge to replace Facebook?” I think Snapchat or other video-based social media platforms have done the job. For me, Facebook started off as a platform to show off what I’m interested in or what I’m doing at the moment. I know that I could just post a video in place of text or an image, but I think video, with its ability capture movement in the moment, is the next best thing that tells others what I’m doing even though, with Snapchat we are limited with a couple of seconds to tell our stories. Though, note that Snapchat allows us to string multiple mini-videos together so we can tell an even bigger tale of how our day went and what we’re currently doing. Consider what vlogging can achieve. Your new media project was great in that you took a route where you made a rather argumentative vlog. Youtubers make vlogs to chronicle their life, which isn’t far from what Facebook is doing just in a more multimodal fashion. This might be extreme, but do you think that with the rise in popularity of vlogs, live broadcasting, and Snapchat, text might not be as used as often on the internet to communicate with others?

  2. I never really considered how much YouTube has changed until reading and discussing your post in class. I guess I just never really thought about it. When I was younger and discovered YouTube, I mostly used it to find songs, and it was always posted up by another person with a crappy background image, haha. Now, I go on YouTube for pretty much the same thing – finding songs that I can’t listen to on Pandora, no matter how many times I skip the damn stations and narrow genre choices. I also look up cat videos, of course. But these are also posted by random people. I suppose what I am trying to say is that maybe I didn’t notice the shift because I have never changed my purpose for the site. However, looking at your post and seeing the visuals made me realize, “Oh, shit, it IS totally changing.” This made me think back to the first couple weeks of class when we talked about how digital media or technology seems so natural or innate at times. I can’t tell what is changing and how because of my frequent interaction or engagement with these things.

    I also think it’s now impossible to find a user generated site. Per our class discussion, we brainstormed what sites could actually be user generated, but despite great ideas (vines, Pinterest, Twitter…etc), I don’t think there are. For example, because I’m getting married, my damn Pinterest is flooded with different companies and brands that want me to buy their dresses or decor or some such wedding crap. I sift for handy user-provided DIY projects, but there are always those bridal somethings that think I might be interested in them. Then, after many pins or searches, I go to my Facebook page, and it somehow also sends me the same damn ads (Maybe because everything is so connected it makes purely user generated stuff impossible). Because companies can maybe track your interests and make suggestions, perhaps no sites are strictly user developed.

  3. Pingback: Broadening the Lens | Teaching Writing in a Digital Age

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