On Michael Wesch’s Whatever
July 18, 2009
I greatly enjoyed watching Michael Wesch’s Towards a New Future of Whatever. The two of us share a YouTube project based on pedagogy and student interaction (as an Anthropologist his research focuses on self and community, while as a Media Studies scholar, mine tends to look more closely at media forms), and because of our differences, I’m always thrilled to see what he and his gang have been up to. Their recent research on the meanings of “whatever” from conclusive, to opting out, to narcissism is funny, compelling and scary. Well done.
I also find Wesch’s findings about the hyper self-conscious YouTube self, dealing with “context collapse” to be compelling: who will see me, and which me is that anyway? Am I alone or in public? Does anyone care and do I matter? However, I also take some (constructive) issue with Wesch’s more downright rosy findings. His thesis that YouTube (and social media) allow for the possibility of “connection without constraint” relies upon blinkers regarding the many limiting corporate structures built into these sites’ architecture: the inability to speak together in written phrases longer than 500 characters as only one example. Furthermore, while I agree that both of the heroes celebrated by Wesch (see below) are inspirational, his finding that such interventionist acts are “calls to action” really minimizes the meaning of both call and action.
Writing a word on your hand, alone in your room, even if linked into a video-collage of similarly moving hands by an activist editor, may be a powerful model of (briefly) mediated community, but is certainly not a structure from whence to build social change or even its inspirational call to action. The hand act is complete in itself, providing neither theory, community nor place for its attempted completion. At minimum, communities need to be called through shared goals and analyses, built over time while in and about an acknowledged place, and in collaboration. These calls need to be focused on activities that also build upon each other and this shared logic. The work of Witness is a more compelling model than this: