YouTube is ten years old today. Well, kind of. Today, ten years ago, the first video was uploaded. It was called, “Me at the Zoo.” At just 18 seconds long, it set the tone for the following decade. It consists of a young man — YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim — at the zoo, in front of the elephant enclosure. With only the slightest hint of facetiousness, he says, “All right, so here we are in front of the, uh, elephants. The cool thing about these guys is that they have really, really, really long, um, trunks. And that’s, that’s cool.” Yes it is!
But not all people would agree. I am reminded of my favorite #SlatePitch joke headline, “What’s the giraffe’s most distinctive feature? Hint: It’s not the neck!” One might even say that an elephant’s proboscis is not that long compared to certain insects — not to mention those of invertebrate. And while the trunk is cool, so are those ears! Dumbo anyone?
I do think that YouTube is cool. I still think the best thing about it is little idiosyncratic videos like, “Me at the Zoo.” But I certainly appreciate the fact that I can usually find television commercials from the 1970s. And if I want, I can watch episodes of Lou Grant. I remember a friend of mine back in 1996 saying, “The only thing that the internet is good for is porn.” That wasn’t even true then, but it was more true. YouTube really has been a welcome addition to the internet — even with it being a corporate toady with a ridiculously biased approach to copyright. And it raises huge questions about inequality. And the abuse of market share. Actually, YouTube is a political nightmare. But look: elephants!
Happy birthday YouTube!
Being prejudiced in favor of print over video, I’m always been a dismissive YouTube snob. (And I certainly imagined it was much older!) I should reconsider that. After all, people who spend every idle minute looking for cat videos probably spent their idle time surfing TV channels beforehand; it wasn’t like they were reading Baker. Perhaps the Internet hasn’t shifted things towards video and away from print as much as I thought. (Although it has certainly made young people less likely to read anything longer than 140 characters — and, far worse, less likely to write anything longer.)
One positive about YouTube probably is the lack of advertising — or the lack of advertising anyone pays attention to. Advertising plays a huge role in painting the shiny happy consumer-paradise picture America sees of itself, so cutting back on the number of people watching it is a good thing. Any 150-second ad block on, say, the Food Network is enough to make you think we’re living in 1955, and not in the good way.
It’s really a shame we ever let cable TV providers become Internet giants. If we hadn’t, Comcast and Time Warner would be on their last legs today, and much of the copyright nonsense on YouTube wouldn’t be there. Of course, there’s always the movie studios . . .
And I will say that YouTube’s search engine is, as far as search engines go, halfway decent!
Speaking of Dean Baker, the CEPR has an excellent YouTube channel. Most of what I use YouTube for is listening to lectures. But the truth is that I like YouTube more in the abstract than in fact. I too am focused on text — it’s just faster. On the other hand, some people like CGP Grey really are great. I’ve learned a lot from him — unlike the Green brothers. And of course, I would be lost in the morning music posts without YouTube.
It is also good that there aren’t as many commercials on YouTube. But there shouldn’t be! Much of the content is very old and YouTube does very little to program. And I’ve been seeing a lot more videos with commercials throughout — at very random spots. I hope they get a handle on that. (Maybe it is the posters’ who don’t take any care to properly time the commercials; I don’t know.)
The main thing is that YouTube is a great tool. It is mostly problematic for people posting stuff. I don’t post very much stuff, but I’ve been through three copyright battles — two of which I won, and one of which was murky about the sound from a French film in some countries. And I do think a lot of people just rip off others. But YouTube definitely sides with the corporate giants.