Questions that occurred to me while exploring the YouTube Channels of the One Million Views project that I can’t necessarily answer but which I am interested in pondering.
Why do we continue to separate our virtual world from our “real” world?1
Does doing so invalidate the connections made in the virtual world? Are virtual experiences (and the communities and networks built up around them) devalued by this distinction?
Do we have to define virtual communities as separate from in real life?2 If we do, how?
How does one represent the experience of virtual community?3
How do we view a YouTube channel without the context of that community, and does separation from that context devalue its content?4
How does the YouTubers’ IRL manifest itself in the virtual world, and can we really say that we know this? Do Baker and Dobbie act as intermediaries between these worlds?5
What does it mean to ‘look behind the curtain’? Or are we simply seeing what was already there, just through a new framework?
What have we been allowed to see, and what has been hidden? What has been illuminated by the artist that correlates or contrasts with what we know of the vlogger?6
How does the way we view OMV (IRL) affect our interactions with the work?7
Is it mad that I feel like I want to be friends with these people?Can that connection be considered tangible and real despite being one way?
Is consuming content participatory?8 By watching and listening to the aspects of these people’s lives that they have willingly shared with me am I involving myself?
Can you know someone from just one video?9
In what ways does this project prompt me to reflect upon my own interactions online?
1We have a tendency to define our virtual communities as other to real life, the phrase ‘In Real Life (IRL)’ is repeatedly used as a way to define and separate our experiences. This is a hangover from the old days when we still couldn’t quite believe that there was this whole new world available to us. Now it functions as a useful separator, but I can’t help but feel that the phrase in fact devalues virtual interaction. Fundamentally, this digital dualism implies that one world is realer than the other, and this has real consequences for our attitudes towards what happens online. This can be as serious as people's’ dismissal of anti social behaviour and violent threats being sent online as somehow less serious than if they were sent IRL, but also as insidious as devaluing work that is “of” the internet, and the time and money that goes into producing online content (Gaby Dunn’s 2015 article for Fusion explores this phenomenon in relation to YouTubers and revenue raising).
2Virtual communities have been loosely defined by Whittaker, Isaacs, & O’Day, (1997, in Lazar and Preece, 1998) as having the following attributes:
• A shared goal or interest that provides the reason for being a part of the community
• Intense interactions and strong emotional ties
• Shared activities between community members
• Access to shared resources
• Support between community members
• Social conventions, language, or protocols
All of which seem to accurately fit the more general definition of “community”, with little to distinguish virtual from IRL.
3One could argue that the drastically different approach of two artists working within similar mediums function as a visual metaphor for these spaces, highlighting both the disconnect and the similarities that virtual communities have with the “real” world.
4Some would say that this is the point, that videos are individual videos for a reason. But while the individual parts of the whole can be comprehended out of context from its channel and community (whether a “how to” video from Cakes by Choppa, a song cover from Damielou, or a rant from Angry Aussie) there is something to be said for the sum being greater than it’s parts, with the channel as a whole providing a sense of something. This is all rather wishy washy but I suppose my point is that it adds further dimension to our sense of the vlogger. This is reflected in the interaction of Baker’s work with Dobbie’s; individually, we get a sense of an aspect of the vlogger’s world, but each in conversation with the other shows us a more nuanced portrait.
5With One Million Views, Baker and Dobbie explore how we encounter these spaces, the identity formed within them and the communities around which they are based. They have been present and inhabited these places in ways that we could not, and have channeled (pun intended) their experiences in a way that gives us a new understanding of these YouTubers.
6In thinking about this project, I have often thought back to Dunn’s discussion of earning the trust of fans/viewers. In some way, the communities surrounding youtube channels exclude the YouTubers themselves. As such, I wonder how differently fans of this community understand the work of OMV in comparison to those of us who have come to the channels through the project. After all, I am approaching this as someone who, despite being involved in many online communities, is an outsider when it comes to YouTube and as such my questions are framed from this approach. One of the values of the One Million Views project is that both Baker and Dobbie approach this work from their position as YouTube “insiders” - adding insight and context otherwise unavailable to the viewer who isn’t already embedded in the wider YouTube community.
7There is a beauty in the fact that we see these works framed in a commercial context, a subtle metaphor for the individual’s creative works placed in a space of trade.
8This fascinates me. There is certainly a sense that by watching, by listening and giving of my time and attention (essentially the key commodities of the internet, it could be argued), I am participating even without demonstrating through key activities (such as commenting). But in some ways that feels like a giant cop out. You can be on the internet for years and feel as if you are participating through consumption, but it is only in relief to actually participating in virtual communities that you might get a sense that this is a pale imitation.
9No. But we should acknowledge that it is possible to feel as if you know them, and the effect this has on one’s virtual interactions. Again, I keep coming back to this idea of knowing through consumption. I think the answer is yes, but it could be considered a different kind of knowing, more akin to the knowledge we have of our favourite characters. The relationship between creator/artist and reader/viewer/consumer has long been considered through creative practice, but it has gained a new facet with the advent of virtual interaction.
Dunn, G. 2015. Get rich or die vlogging: The sad economics of internet fame. Fusion. Archived at http://fusion.net/story/244545/famous-and-broke-on-youtube-instagram-social-media/
Jurgenson, N. 2011. Digital dualism versus augmented reality. Cyborgology. Archived at https://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2011/02/24/digital-dualism-versus-augmented-reality/
Lazar, J., and Preece, J. 1998. Classification Schema for Online Communities. Proceedings of the 1998 Association for Information Systems, Americas Conference, 84-86.
Whittaker, S., Isaacs, E. and O’Day, V. 1997. Widening the Net. SIGCHI Bulletin (29:3), pp.
Clare Muston is a Visual Arts teacher who has been obsessed with the internet and online fan culture since she first joined a Sirius Black fan forum aged 13. She is currently completing her Masters of Teaching with a focus on arts education and online culture.