On Michael Wesch's Whatever (July 18, 2009)
NOTES: Origins and Context | See Also
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Origins of this content
This 2009 blog post marks my ongoing, respectful, but critical, online dialogue with fellow YouTube scholar Michael Wesch from the University of Kansas. His euphoric views, and awe-inspiring skills at explaining while mobilizing social media, have gained him much deserved media and scholarly attention.
WITNESS "is an international human rights organization that provides training and support to local groups to use video in their human rights advocacy campaigns. Beyond providing video cameras and editing equipment, WITNESS is committed to facilitating exposure for our partners' issues on a global scale. We help broker relationships with international media outlets, government officials, policymakers, activists, and the general public so that once a video is made, it can be used as a tool to advocate for change."[cit]

The Free Hugs Campaign "is a real life controversial story of Juan Mann, a man whose sole mission was to reach out and hug a stranger to brighten up their lives ... Sometimes, a hug is all what we need."[cit]

Cyber studies is often bifurcated by a euphoria/pessimism divide focusing on questions like whether the internet opens or closes conversation and community, is democratic or corporate-controlled particularly around issues of copyright and intellectual property, and produces new forums for expression or calcifies prevailing borders as well as establishing possibilities for surveillance.

The concept of 'Whatever' has a strong postmodern vibe. John Haiman, in his book "Sarcasm, Alienation, and the Evolution of Language," discusses the concept of language as a token for an offhanded postmodern sensibility. Haiman mainly focuses on sarcasm and forms of verbal aggression, which seems to be prevalent in this Texteo piece. Haiman's argument, about "sarcasm and the postmodern sensibility" (Haiman, 12) contradicts with Wesch's argument on our underlying sense of compassion and community on the digital sphere. For example, the YouTube community reacted very well to the "Free Hugs" campaign and other similar heart tugging moments. Today, the modern age "hipster" motive influences our social and digital behavior, leading to a struggle between the community and the individual, the desire to care and the desire to act aloof." -Rebecca Dollinger
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), because of our differences, I'm always thrilled to see what he and his gang have been up to.

His students' 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 compelling about the hyper-self-conscious YouTube self who must deal with "context collapse": 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. Supporting his thesis that YouTube, and social media allow for the possibility of "connection without constraint" requires blinders to 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 are inspirational, his finding that such interventionist acts are "calls to action" 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 where the action might actually come to completion.

At minimum, communities need to be called to action through shared goals and analyses built over time and taking place in collaboration and in and about an acknowledged place. Such calls need to be focused on activities that also build on each other and this shared logic. The work of Witness, with their "global platform for human rights media and action," the Hub, is a more compelling model.