The Importance of Cultural Freedom in the Digital Realm

A couple of classes ago we read an article by John Hartley on the subject of YouTube and the creation of social media sites. This was briefly brought up in class but I feel there is a larger conversation that can be started around this piece. Social media and social platforms such as YouTube are a driving force within the digital culture that we interact with, they are what in fact what separates the digital from the traditional. In the past traditional media allowed for the “few” to speak, and the “many” to listen, but in the digital era everyone is allowed to showcase an opinion and open discussion to all groups.

To summarize Hartley’s article, Hartley invented a website called YIRN (Youth Internet Radio Network), which was basically YouTube before YouTube existed. It was a strong idea, giving adolescents a stage to record, picture, say, and film what they want and to create an area for one to communicate and express one’s self with one’s peers. Though his idea failed because of a slow development period, and too much focus on teaching kids how to use the platform and showing them what can be done on the site rather than just leaving the site open for people to use in different ways. The site ultimately failed because it did not allow for a culture to grow naturally and was not open to the kind of interpretive imagination that drove YouTube to becoming a diverse and interesting place.

The reason why YIRN failed brings up some very important points about digital culture. First of all that it is a culture that relies on the community as a whole building the culture rather than a select few. YouTube’s library of entertainment was not built by a few groups making videos and essentially determining what people will and will not watch, instead it was constructed from a community of creators who exist within the culture and build off each other’s ideas allowing what defines the website to be constantly changing (from baby videos 5 years ago to a heavy focus on gaming this year). The community built the website to become what it is without the assistance of “professionals”.

This brings me to the larger reason for the blog post, which is the blog posts themselves (this seems important as we have just begin this process).  We have been given the freedom to do and say what we want with these posts (within a reasonable set of guidelines), we as a community have been given the ability to build our own online discourse that can evolve into what we want it to be over the course of the semester. Of course this only happens with extreme amounts of effort, but we have been given the freedom and the ability to build an academic conversation and at the very least this sounds great to me. Ultimately it may not be what is said in each individual post that is important, but what is said as a whole in the entirety of the blog that matters.

Why, one might ask why I wrote a cheesy speech in the last paragraph on the importance of this blog, first of all because the blog format allows me to. Though more importantly because I want to point out that social media and platforms are at their strongest when they allow freedom for their users to create and morph a culture. This becomes problematic when such platforms limit how they can be used (such arguments can be made about the limitations of Facebook), and so when looking at digital culture it is very important to take a hard look at what kind of platform one is using to communicate and what the strengths and weaknesses of that platform.


Work Cited:

Hartley, John. “YouTube, Digital Literacy and Growth of Knowledge.” Queensland University of Technology, 2008. Web. 15 Sept. 2013.

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