What Has YouTube Done for Me Lately?

by J. Tobias Beard

In 2006, Time Magazine’s Person of the Year was “You.” The issue was a celebration of the new interactive internet, Web 2.0. This was my response. 

Hey you. Yes, YOU. Congratulations. Time Magazine has just named YOU their Person of the Year for 2006. There you are, smiling back at yourself from the mirror on the cover. You should really rethink that piercing.

What exactly did you do to earn this honor? Apparently you “wrest[ed] power from the few” and “[beat] the pros at their own game”. You “made Facebook profiles and Second Life avatars and reviewed books at Amazon and recorded podcasts.” You “blogged about [y]our candidates losing and wrote songs about getting dumped.” You have been busy as little bees working on your blogs, MySpace pages, and YouTube videos. Wow. Good job YOU. Seriously, good job, because without you posting the video on YouTube, I might never have known how skilled you are with a lightsaber. Without your MySpace page I might have lived forever without knowing that your favorite movies are LOTR and Wedding Crashers, and your favorite books are To Kill a Mockingbird and The DaVinci Code.

Frankly, You, I don’t give a damn.

And frankly I can’t believe Time Magazine bought the hype. Do they really think that YouTube and MySpace are going to “change the world”? That these sites and the people who post on them belong in the same line of previous People Of The Years as Ghandi, Hitler, Kennedy, and Clinton? Do they really think that “Web 2.0” as they call it constitutes a “revolution”?

There is nothing new about the activities of the people Time has chosen to honor in the current issue. Time magazine puts “Us” on its cover for doing what we have always done: rant, rave, weigh in, talk about ourselves, document our lives, muckrake and whistleblow. The members of We The People 2.0 that Time chooses to focus on are mostly wannabe journalists and stars and activists, and the fact that they are using new technology to become actual journalists and stars and activists is not revolutionary. The internet is just a new way for Us to look at ourselves, and We haven’t really changed all that much. We are still barbarous and beautiful in equal measure, and whether we read about it in a novel or watch it on a cellphone video posted on the web, all that has changed is the speed and volume of the tin cans on a string that we have stretched between our figurative bedrooms.

It is ironic that Time would laud YouTube and MySpace for helping “you” to “[seize] the reins of the global media.” Time, which is of course part of the giant media conglomerate Time Warner, and the disastrous internet merger AOL Time Warner, fails to mention just who really owns this “new digital democracy.” Google, whose founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are worth $14.1 billion and $14.0 billion, respectively, recently purchased YouTube for $1.65 billion worth of stock. MySpace is owned by News Corporation, whose CEO is Rupert Murdoch, founder of the Fox Broadcasting Company, about whom the Columbia Journalism Review said, “If ever someone demonstrated the dangers of mass power being concentrated in few hands, it would be Murdoch.” So, next time you blog about politics or post that cool new video you found on YouTube on your MySpace page, ask yourself if you feel like you’ve you wrested any power lately.

Time Magazine and all the other Internet apologists are fooling themselves if they think that the ability to digitally distribute the same old news and entertainment has changed the quality of content or the locus of power in human discourse. We do not own the internet and we never have, any more than “we” have ever owned anything but our thoughts and words and actions. The World Wide Web, or at least the money that makes it move, is in the hands of the same huge conglomerates and shadowy billionaires who have always bought and sold everything, and Time Magazine, by distracting us with the unique and special glory of our own face in the mirror, is just helping to keep those same shadows dark and deep.

Good job, YOU. Now get out there and update your MySpace page. That Fall Out Boy video is getting old.