To visit the YouthTube Project, please click HERE.
Johnny is supposed to be studying the French novel Les Misérables for a very difficult essay in his advanced French class tomorrow. Johnny also needs to do the dishes, take his dog Sparky for a walk, and fill out tax forms for his new job at a restaurant. He also has to study the menu for his new job, because his first shift is tomorrow. Instead of doing all of those things, Johnny is looking at the infamous viral video Keyboard Cat. Even though all of his friends have already seen it, Johnny cannot stop laughing, so he posts the video to his Facebook wall, tweets a link, and texts his girlfriend a link to the video. Johnny watches Keyboard Cat over and over for about fifteen minutes. Then he sees other popular videos on the right side of his screen, and it is over for Johnny: he has entered the Y-hole. Similar to the effects of the drug Ketamine, where users enter an alternate world for an undetermined amount of time known as a “k-hole,” YouTube and other “humor” sites suck in users into an endless cycle of mindless diversion. Accelerated by sharing of content from these sites on social media, time spent looking at this material has become a large part of young people’s lives as well as popular culture. Youth today is (on the whole) ignorant and complacent about how the computer, and more specifically, social media, impacts their lives.
Three former PayPal employees created YouTube in 2005, and like so many of the social media giants today, YouTube was conceived in a social setting as a possible start up venture. The company was eventually sold to Google in 2006 for a very high price. Before it changed owners, YouTube was a much freer place, hosting a plethora of inappropriate videos alongside other, tamer content. Now, Google monitors the content posted, eliminating porn from the myriad of videos online, even though there is still very disturbing content available, such as a video (albeit a fake video) of a girl getting hit by a car. Most young people use YouTube for three reasons, and they are as follows:
- How-to videos – How to pick a lock, how to bake a cake, how to change a tire, and even how to kiss.
- Music – instead of buying music or using torrents, people can access a music video online and listen to the song for free. These videos are usually taken down unless supplied by the artist or record label. Vimeo is the typical platform for official music releases.
- Humor – Funny videos of fat dogs in swings, cats playing a keyboard, or young people playing pranks on their friends; these are only a few genres found within the “humor” videos on YouTube.
It should be noted that while it is true that these three reasons are based on generalizations, you would be hard pressed to find a young individual who would disagree. This last section of YouTube, humor, or, more aptly, what users look at when “bored,” is reflective of a larger trend on the Internet as a whole. Reddit seems to be the apex of this trend. Reddit, the self-proclaimed “front page of the internet,” is the origin of a different type of humor. This humor differs only in that it uses a non-moving image or an animated .gif file instead of a video; the content is generally the same. Reddit is something like a giant message board that anyone can post to, with different Sub-Reddits for different categories or areas of interest. Just like YouTube, Reddit has some practical applications, such as Sub-Reddits dedicated to politics, science, and even art history. Young people generally go to Reddit to look at r/Funny, though, which consists of a variety of images that users find humorous. One type of image, the “meme,” is made using one image with endless variations of text created by users, and that text is essentially the punch line of a joke. A meme always uses the same image, and is normally centered on a specific character. These memes enter into the young people’s vernacular; the “Ermagherd” phenomenon is one example. The same is true of viral YouTube videos, like Sweet Brown’s local news interview about a fire. If you have heard someone say, “Ain’t nobody got time fo dat,” this viral video is the origin.
The Internet envisioned by its creators technically came to fruition, even within platforms like YouTube and Reddit. Users can get online and have an educated discussion or find a plethora of information about virtually any subject. However, just as the Internet acts as a powerful tool in the pursuit of knowledge, there is also an immense amount of mind rotting garbage that has been inserted into the system. It is popular culture that has imposed this problem onto the Internet through user-driven content. “Sweet Brown’s Cold Pop Escape” has 9,000,000+ views, while videos about the recent discovery of the Higgs Boson particle do not exceed 200,000 views. Young people today, constantly connected to electronic mobile devices and social media, utilize the mindless aspect of platforms like Reddit and YouTube instead of accessing the vast amount of educational resources available to them. Further, they immerse themselves in this meaningless Internet culture instead of experiencing people, communities, and their own culture firsthand. Social media exacerbates the problem and makes the viral video phenomenon possible. I created YouthTube to point out this cultural issue to the people of my own generation. I do not claim to be its patron saint, however; I too get sucked into the “y-hole,” but this fact only motivated me further.
I created the YouthTube site using the platform Wix, which enables those of us not adept at coding or programs such as Dreamweaver to create a well designed and fully functioning website. YouthTube also utilizes social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
I employed the same basic color scheme as YouTube’s of red, black, and white, but I chose to use the inverse of that color scheme, implying something darker and heavier. I also made the header of YouthTube similar in color to the YouTube logo. The menu is simplistic, with only four options: Home, Experiences, About, and Contact. The Home page features a warning to users. I felt this was necessary because the culmination of the combination of visual and auditory experience is unsettling, upsetting, and highly irritating. It was also a place for me to use my sense of humor; YouthTube takes on a mocking tone in different places throughout the site, inspired by the ridiculous subject matter. The About page features an animated .gif of Sweet Brown that might appear on Reddit or Facebook. I then provided a short and succinct paragraph about YouthTube’s purpose, which is as follows:
“YouthTube is a series of audio and visual experiences created by Alexa Ibarguen using viral videos from the YouTube world. The purpose of the project is to encourage young people to realize and contemplate their time spent on the Internet. The thoughts evoked by these experiences can be tied to other experiences online, such as Reddit, 9gag.com, and Facebook.”
The real core of the project is contained within the Experiences and Contact pages. Originally, the project was centered upon online porn videos as a metaphor for the amount of pointless content on the Internet, as well as the different spheres of private and public life that intersect online. However, because of my lack of knowledge with creating a web site, licensing and copyright issues, and the limitations of Wix (Wix obviously does not allow porn), I was forced to refocus my research onto less shocking subject matter. Despite this setback in my thought process, I realized that it allowed me to speak to a larger audience about a more important issue within my generation.
The menu option for Experiences provides users with a drop-down menu as well as a page with three large red buttons labeled One, Two, and Three. These three experiences should be thought of as possible results of an “Experience Generator.” Using the Wix platform inhibited my ability to manipulate the guts of the website, restricting the interactive aspect of the work greatly. An “experience” on YouthTube is, in essence, only two videos repeated several times on the same page. I had hoped to create a form where users could select a viral video from a menu or even provide a URL for a video of their choice. Unfortunately, Wix and also my own ignorance of the workings of the Internet prevented me from doing this.
I stated in the previous paragraph that an experience was essentially only two videos repeated several times on the same page. This is true of its basic make-up; it is not sophisticated, nor is it complicated, in form or in content. It is, however, vastly different from how young people normally experience the YouTube platform.
Each experience is composed of two different viral videos. The use of the YouTube platform to criticize its own nature is a concept I borrowed from countless new media artworks, and in my opinion, is a staple of the digital medium itself. Within this broad scope, YouthTube identifies closely with the Net.Art movement as described by Alexander R. Galloway. The low bandwidth provided by the Wix server and the high amount of data necessary to materialize the videos causes them all to load at different times, a natural effect imposed by the restrictions of the Internet. The videos are set to play automatically and also to loop endlessly. As the videos begin to play, the viewer is confronted with more and more noise, and an echoing effect starts in after about half of the videos have loaded. The videos almost never play continuously, and pause to buffer as well as skip from time to time. These aspects of YouthTube – the utilization of an online service as a new medium to critique itself and also the randomness supplied by the Internet’s shortcomings – are closely tied in my mind to the works of Jodi within the Net.Art movement. John Cage was also influential in my thinking, as well as the artists of Fluxus. Golan Levin’s concept of sound also figured its way into this work. These artists used sound to create art outside the norms of what was “beautiful.” The point of YouthTube is not to remix these videos and turn them into music; it is to turn them into a metaphor for the young person’s online experience – nothing but a bunch of inconsequential noise.
I first became interested in examining the YouTube experience after reading Constant Dulaarts’s writing on his project YouTube as a Subject. While Dulaart examined the interface of YouTube, his art was contained within the same platform that he was examining, and other YouTube visitors started to create their own, thus starting a chain reaction. Due to my shortcomings with the Experience Generator idea, one of my hopes for the YouthTube project is that people will make their own experiences and publish them online.
The final dimension of YouthTube is the Contact page. The main enabler of this vapid online culture is social media. Massive social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are the main vein for the spread of these viral videos, reaching millions of users, even those who they are not intended for. Without social media, there are no viral videos. Memes would also have not become such a major part of youth culture had Facebook not existed. Thus, YouthTube again employs the same platforms it satirizes; a viral video requires the video site, YouTube, and the means to spread it, Facebook and Twitter.
In conclusion, technology has become such a part of our culture that it is hard for us to imagine life without it. It supplies endless information and knowledge on just about any subject in the world and is used by countless numbers of people to better humanity. However, it has also given birth to a meaningless and mindless youth culture that only encourages diversion from the things that actually matter in life. The fact that these viral videos and memes have entered into our daily vernacular is disconcerting. Their popularity is reflective of the Internet as a whole and our real experience of it. Sure, you can learn French using an online service, and maybe that’s what some young people are doing. But numbers don’t lie – 9,000,000 people thought that watching Sweet Brown’s Cold Pop Escape was more important than anything else at that moment, something that should alarm any of us.
 Jim Hopkins. “Surprise! There’s a third YouTube co-founder.” (USA Today. 2006. Accessed November 27, 2012. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/news/2006-10-11-youtube-karim_x.htm)
 Alexander R. Galloway. Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006).
 Paul, Christiane. Digital Art, (2nd ed., New York: Thames and Hudson, 2003): 13-15, 133.
 Constant Dulaart. “YouTube as a Subject.” (In Net Works: Case Studies in Web Art and Design, edited by Xtine Burrough, New York: Routledge, 2011): 16-24.
 A user’s actions on Facebook are public. When someone shares a video or posts one to their friend’s wall, their entire friend base is told about it and provided a link to the video as well.