Saturday, June 28, 2008

Web 2.0: The Web is US/ing us

The opening keynote presentation at the eXtension Communities of Practice Conference was given by Dr. Michael Wesch, Kansas State University.

Wesch's talk began with his stories of Papua New Guinea a place he worked as a cultural anthropologist. It was a place with limited "communication media (no radio, TV, electricity, etc.). Only a small portion of the population could read and write. In part, he told the story of how this is changing, but generally he used this as a contrast to our society (U.S.) in order to help us begin to think about how our "media tools" shape who we are. In his talk he returned again and again to this quote:

"We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us." Marshall McLuhan.

Wesch illustrated his main point with the follow YouTube video about Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us. This is a short wonderful example of what is happening with the web, but he also illustrates how we are becoming the web and how the web is using us. (that is, if the web is becoming "user-generated content" and that content is about us then we are becoming the "web.").

He also told the story about this video going viral and emerging as the #1 video on YouTube on Superbowl Sunday-- reminding us that even on a day when there are these powerful videos produced a big corporations with lots of financial resources that the "little guy" can still compete in this world with an engaging, entertaining and in this case, educational video.

Another part of this presentation reminded us that it is very hard for us to think about the future and prepare for the future. Again a quote from Marshall McLuhan, " We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future. "

One aspect of his talk that I disagreed with was his notion of whether or not YouTube was creating "community." He notes that there are 200,000 new 3- minute videos added to YouTube per day and that about 10,000 of these videos are about by viewers who are talking the the YouTube community. In short, people are telling personal stories about their lives directly to the "YouTube community." (Note: Lots of blogs, twitter, and social networking sites have similar material.)

Wesch argues that there is a significant loss of community in general. His hypothesis is that community is being built through the "YouTube community" and other social media platforms. As an aside he notes that these media are not replacing F2F, but these media are being used to connect people. Showed a video of a the video of "Free Hugs" that shows people connected through YouTube. Another viral video (over 27 million views) ... is this really "building community?" I think we need to know a lot more about online community building.

There were many other key parts of this presentation and when it become available online it is definitely worth watching. Here is one final quote from him that was his prediction about the future of the web, computing, etc.
"We are moving towards
social network of
people, and
Michael Wesch

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