Is the emergence of YouTube changing us from a textual culture to a visual culture? If so, what might it portend for scholarship? A number of observations indicate that we need to think about this.
Alex Iskold of ReadWriteWeb recently reported on a session at the November Web 2.0 conference. After some interviews and additional observations, he concludes that YouTube is becoming the next Google.
Mary Meeker from Morgan Stanley pointed out at the same conference that YouTube is now the #2 search engine in the world.
Because video was not possible before, the web was dominated by text. Now that video cameras and broadband are cheap, information that is better served by video is getting converted. As a result, YouTube is now the second largest search engine, and traffic is through the roof.
YouTube is gaining on Google’s traffic for search (luckily for Google, it owns YouTube).
Michael Bhaskar from thedigitalist.net wonders about the possibility of a video generation, and what this might mean for literacy, capacity for critical thinking, mental efficiency, and culture overall. Referring to Maryanne Wolf’s excellent “Proust & the Squid,” he worries:
. . . we are evolving out of a text based culture. Sure there will always be a place for the economy and density of text. This place could get ever smaller though. The early days of the internet might come to be viewed as a golden age for text, a time when web sites and blogs poured forth a profusion of words such as the world had never seen, a textual Eden before the video Fall.
Even Bhaskar feels this is a little too dramatic. What Iskold observes is, I think, the truth — what is best shown can now be shown. The efficiency and mental habits of words, language, and reading will continue to have a place. What the shifting of that place into a new — even subordinate — role might mean for mental acuity and scholarship remains to be seen.
Since Albrecht Durer and his contemporaries, we’ve been supplementing a broadly textual culture with images. Then those images were given the illusion of motion. Now, these moving images can network.
Will this change the way we think? Will this change cultures?
Yes, but if history is any guide, more information — even visual information — will, on balance, be better. Scholars can use the new medium to teach, to show, and to communicate. That’s why networked video is so popular already. It helps.