Outsiders and critics often think of YouTube and computer gaming as entertaining and quite superficial modes of cultural consumption. I have increasingly moved away from that point of view, and to pursue the argument I will note that lately my favorite YouTube video is Magnus Carlsen doing 100 chess endgames in 30 minutes. That is not recommended for most of you, but I believe that is part of the point. I now think of YouTube as a communications medium with (often, not always) high upfront “investment in context” costs. So if a lot of videos seem stupid to you, well sometimes they are but other times you don’t have enough context to understand them, or for that matter to condemn them for the right reasons. This “high upfront costs” model is consistent with the semi-addictive behavior exhibited by many loyal YouTube users. Once you start going down a rabbit hole, it can be hard to stop, and the “YouTube is superficial” models don’t really predict that kind of user behavior, rather they predict mere channel-surfing.
Did you know that Yonas, my Ethiopian contact in Lalibela, and recipient of royalties from my book Stubborn Attachments, loves YouTube videos on early Armenian church history? He seems to know all about that topic. A lot of those same videos would not make much sense to me. I could follow them, but they wouldn’t communicate much meaning, whereas the Ethiopian and Armenian Christian churches have a fair amount in common, including in their early histories.
Has the popularity of PewDiePie — 103 million