An awkward 20-something-year old stands in front of a large elephant enclosure, uncomfortably shuffling as he describes the majestic creatures behind him as having “really, really, really, long trunks.” And that’s pretty much it. This nineteen-second video, poor in quality and worse in delivery, served as the humble beginning of YouTube as the first video ever uploaded to the video-sharing platform by the site’s cofounder, Jawed Karim.
April 23rd, 2015 marked the ten-year anniversary of one of the largest phenomena the Internet has ever seen. One of the beauties of the site is that anyone can start a YouTube channel and upload videos, and that’s exactly what happens. Users upload over 300 hours of video footage per minute. That said, there is a disturbing amount of useless material on the site along with nefarious individuals that continue to “troll” YouTube with comments that reek with racism, sexism, homophobia, and other putrid droppings of the stale mind. Why, then, you may ask, is this website one of the most popular ones in existence?
The answer should be rather obvious. That which allows for this sort of “contamination” of an otherwise civilized society is exactly that which also bears the fruits of YouTube. The beauty lies in the simple notion that anyone is allowed to upload videos to YouTube if they would like to, as long as they abide by the community guidelines. It is, more or less, an extension of free speech, insofar as anyone can “say” or more aptly, express via video, whatever they would like to. That said, while the vast majority of videos are forgotten about like those stunning middle school portraits of you, there are those sparkling gems that outshine the rest. Thousands of YouTube stars have made a full-time living through YouTube, uploading video blogs, or vlogs, as well as collaborating with other YouTubers in creating new content.
On December 21st, 2012, a Korean musician, Psy, broke YouTube’s record of reaching over a billion views with his hit song, “Gangnam Style.” This sort of influence over the masses has incredible implications, one that needs to be taken seriously. It is time to stop dismissing YouTube as a hodgepodge of pet videos and amateur footage, but to be regarded as something that can allow for a song to reach the masses and influence them to gallop on an imaginary horse while belting the lyrics of a Korean pop song that the vast majority don’t even understand. The video, as of now, has over 2.3 billion views.
While older generations may have a difficult time understanding the profound spread of video footage, something that can start political movements or teach people practical skills, one must remember that the younger generations do, in fact, have a deep appreciation of the site. One child on a YouTube channel (ironically enough) dismissed the Apple Watch as being “worthless” being it didn’t have a YouTube app.
Despite the misconception that YouTube will come to film you, the best part of the site is that anyone with a camera and an idea has the possibility and opportunity to become an Internet sensation or spread any message or cause they would like to. The power is in your hands. It remains up to you what you then choose to capture and send to the world. As the site itself best summarizes, “YouTube is a portraits of our global culture, seen through the lenses and perspectives of people around the world. It is a portrait built by a creative community of bold and fearless individuals. Built by comedians, gamers, activists, artists, performers, teachers, and pranksters. Built with cats and rainbows and blenders and ninjas and unicorns. It was built on the silly. It was built on the profound. It was built by you.”
This article was written by Amar Ojha, founder and writer at dusk magazine.