The Internet is an Existential Place
This 58-second home video entitled, "Buhlud" has nearly 3-million views in its less-than-one-year existence on YouTube. If I say "buhlud" around a crowd of people at a party, chances are someone, if not multiple people will know to what I am referring. The popularity of YouTube and the widespread interest in amateur video as an extension of so-called reality TV has created a venue or medium in which a video of a young child in the initial stages of developing his speech can flourish as a video that goes viral. People discussed it, linked it, blogged it, forumed about it, submitted it, emailed it, IMed it, Facebooked it, and even Gmail Chatted it. They discussed it at parties, at the dinner table, at school, at work, and then probably watched it together. This is the world we live in. It used to be called "water cooler" talk, but now that water cooler is YouTube and everyone is standing around the same massive forum of information and ideas, exchanging opinions and attitudes regarding the video content of the website.
"Charlie bit my finger and it still hurts!"
Ten months ago a British man uploaded onto YouTube a 55-second video of an exchange between his infant son, Charlie, and his 3-year-old son, Harry in which the former bites the finger of the latter. Since then, this video has over 15.5 million views. From a recent experience, I am--by extrapolation--assuming that most of the views are by Americans; little children with high-pitched British accents are apparently not nearly as funny nor cute to the British.
Is YouTube supporting internet addiction?
There are many criticisms to be said of YouTube and it's encouragement of the web's demise of human-to-human contact; however, it succeeds in that it gives everyone and anyone a voice. Almost aware of their collective power to choose what or who is in the spotlight, there seems to be a tendency for many of the most viral of videos to be those that feature individuals who don't intend to reach the masses. In other words, the more clear that it is that the video wasn't made for YouTube, the more credibility the video receives from the community. Ironically, in a space widely-perceived as an artificial medium, the community seems to be most intrigued by the most organic of videos, those that feel the most authentic. Sometimes we may even forget that 15.5 million people have already viewed it, instead maybe feeling like we could have found it in some random person's dusty attic or basement, and we're checking it out in the VCR or the reel-to-reel for the first time in a decade or two.
How Did We (not) Communicate Before Facebook
What happened B.F. (Before Facebook)? The answer is that this connection would in most likelihood not come about. Facebook came along and changed socializing, fostering unprecedented, large-scale acquaintanceship among people. Connections that never would have been substantiated, people whom you would never have heard of or from again now become internet personalities, with pictures, interests, actions and walls that allow a virtual profile to come to life and represent a human identity.
I can't tell if Facebook is making us more or less awkward; in some ways we're forgetting how to talk to people in real life, but in other ways we are getting a whole lot of practice in having conversations with people we barely know because we happen to be friends on facebook and we are meeting by chance on the street somewhere. In fact, you may only be meeting someone for the second time in real life and about 98% of what you know about him/her is based on the assumptions you've made after looking at their profile when you were bored. You know he was in a relationship for 14 months but recently broke up, went to a Radiohead concert last weekend, enjoys martial arts, and is in the group I Love Rootbeer, but you can't interpret how he feels when he speaks with a certain tone in his voice or makes a particular facial expression.
In many ways, Facebook is fostering lifestyles in which individuals have many shallow, unfulfilling acquaintances, impairing much of their effort toward significant, deep friendships. Does Facebook's role in removing humanism from socializing render it evil, or are there some spiritually-profound lessons to be learned from it? Maybe the cynical view overemphasizes the dichotomy of real world and virtual world, failing to see the connection between the two. If enlightenment comes through seeing the connection between everyone and everything, wouldn't Facebook be bringing us closer to collective human evolution and spiritual transcendance? Have we reached another monolith in Time?