Here’s an interesting talk by a communications professor on the cultural and political implications of YouTube.  Much of what he says applies to the medium of the blog as well. Civil, rational, and constructive discussion is much more difficult when anonymity and distance characterize a media. But there have been enough examples of healthy discussion and respectful disagreement at FPR to suggest that there are possibilities in the context of this medium. At the same time, the medium is fraught with limitations. I think this speaker is probably too hopeful.

h/t Scott York

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Mark T. Mitchell is the co-founder of Front Porch Republic. He is the Dean of Academic Affairs at Patrick Henry College and the author of several books including Power and Purity, The Limits of Liberalism, The Politics of Gratitude, and Localism in Mass Age: A Front Porch Republic Manifesto (co-editor).


  1. I was going to lecture Thursday on the ethics of modern and post-modern marketing and advertising, but I think it will be incomplete without this. It may be that the global village will develop an etiquette of communication (netiquette?), but that is difficult where there is so much anonymity. On a group like this, we tend to know each other after a while, and the rhetorical violence tends to either subside, or get passed off as “Well that’s just __________.” But I don’t know; it may just be too early to tell.

  2. I must admit that I, too, find Wesch’s conclusion to be far too optimistic. Is it really possible that a community (if we can call it that) formed on the frail tentacles of cyberspace will actually be motivated enough to do what it takes to “care… do whatever it takes”?

    I am increasingly concerned that my generation is losing the art of association that Tocqueville discusses. Why is it so much easier to log into gtalk when we’re lonely? Why do ppl pour out their hearts to a webcam, rather than talking with their neighbor? Is it possible that we are letting humanness itself slip away from us — after all, embodied existence seems to be an absolutely essential part of what it means to be human. And now it seems that my generation is opting for a screen to veil them before we will unveil our hearts. Why??

    All my objections must seem incredibly ironic, given the fact that this is a blog, so I must end with a thought on that: as much as I enjoy FPR, I do not consider it to be my community or even my primary source of ideas/discussion/fellowship. If I did, wouldn’t that indicate something was very wrong with my social life and perhaps even with my understanding of what it means to have meaningful communication?

    • Katherine T.,
      FPR is not your community. It is not anyone’s community. You are exactly right that something would be seriously wrong with your social life (not to mention your conception of community) if you imagined that a web site could fit the bill. We can discuss important ideas here. We might even help connect people in their local places, but an online community is a pseudo-community at best and probably a deception.

  3. I really enjoyed this lecture and I agree with much of what he said. The Ron Paul movement is a good example of an online community or swarm coming to life. Obama campaign too.

    I should also point out that You Tube is as much about re-connecting with the past than just personal videos. There is so much that’s being uploaded of programs, commercials, speeches, events that took place long ago. It’s a real pleasure to see so much of the past at my fingertips.

    Here’s a good example: the documentary Harlan County, USA


  4. Dr. Mitchell,

    I just came across this post today, and I must say I largely agree with the speaker in that video. I think he did an excellent job of highlighting both the best and the worst potential of social media such as YouTube. While YouTube clearly follows the same rule as most other media that 90% of everything posted is crap, I think the remaining 10% has great potential for re-democratizing media.

    Throughout the 20th century, the average citizen was just a mindless consumer forced to watch whatever the big media conglomerates passed down to us and we called that “culture.” Today, tools like YouTube allow individual citizens to once again take ownership of our own culture by directly contributing to it with our own creativity and talent. Sites like YouTube give a voice to people who would never have a chance of getting on television or otherwise have the ability to engage in the type of mass communication necessary for cultural influence.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever read any books by Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Harvard Law School (formerly of Stanford Law), but he talks a great deal about this and what he terms “remix culture” or “read-write culture.” This is the idea that technology restores the ability of the average citizen to directly contribute to the formation of culture, which was formerly lost through the “read only” media technologies of the previous century. One story he loves to tell in his books and recorded lectures is how John Phillip Souzza (sp?) complained when the phonograph was invented that it would abolish the amateur creativity of youth sitting around singing the songs of the day, and would replace it with dedicated classes of cultural producers and cultural consumers. This is exactly what 20th century media did, but I think it is a trend which 21st century media is reversing.

    The internet once again allows for a participatory culture, just on a much wider scale than ever before. Personally, I am excited by the potential new technologies have to allow us to reconnect with past values we have previously lost. I would thus have to disagree with the main premise of this site, since I believe we should embrace technological progress and learn to use it to better ourselves, rather than looking backward to an idealized past that never really existed except in our imaginations, which is what I’ve seen most of the articles on this site doing.

  5. Patrick, I too am excited by the potential of the new media, but there are two things that trouble me about the “re-mix culture.” One is the ability to judge the quality of the sources, and the other is the ability it gives us to live in an echo chamber of our own ideas. But select their sources, without much discrimination, and select only sources that match their own biases and agendas. Thus, rather than connecting everybody, it isolates them, not only physically, but intellectually as well. Further, dissenters tend to be demonized, dehumanized. More and more, we get tribalism, which is dangerous politically, economically, and, especially, socially. I don’t know how Lessig handles these problems.

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