Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hello Fellow YouTubers!

I didn't know about the Peter Oakely, the geriatric YouTube sensation, until I read Annie's post the other day. Now I'm hooked and completely fascinated.

He's got teenage fans from Germany ("Hey, old man!"), inspired fellow old timers with unfortunate last names to tell their own stories, had tributes made, spoofs, been the topic of academic papers had to deal with a nasty Youtube hoax announcing his death and, at 96 videos and counting, still cooking away.

I've been keenly interested in watching how his videos have progressed--how his technological agility improved. His first few videos are a bit fumbling-- he's apologetic about their quality. He's not a technological neophyte, but he's still learning the ropes. By the 4th video, however, he's got headphones with an attached microphone, and a nice introduction. The sound is vastly improved.

By the 5th video his grasp of multimedia storytelling is rapidly progressing. And, he's turned, unexpectedly, into a YouTube hit. He tells us that he woke up that particular morning and found "I had 4,700 notifications from YouTube in my e-mail...I am absolutely overwhelmed and don't quite know what to say...I just need to say thank you to all of you people." Youtube, he says, has given him "a whole new world to experience." And so he explores.

A nice reminder that all the user-generated content going on isn't simply coming from the so-called digital-native contingency, a term laden with some run away assumptions. As Henry Jenkins recently posted:

As long as we divide the world into digital natives and immigrants, we won't be able to talk meaningfully about the kinds of sharing that occurs between adults and children and we won't be able to imagine other ways that adults can interact with youth outside of these cultural divides.

What stereotypes, what detrimental ageist suppositions do we sustain by focusing so much of our attention and energy on Millennials and their relationship with technology? Watching Oakley's earliest videos, it's clear that he was seeking to have a conversation with his "fellow YouTubers," made up of, as he's very much aware, a much younger audience. Part of what he's seeking is a cross-generational dialogue, and in this he succeeds wonderfully, with folks replying in the comment section or even, more relevant to the medium, by video. In fact, as the above mentioned academic article by Dave Harley and Geraldine Fitzpatrick makes clear:

What begins as an individual effort by Peter soon develops into a collaborative endeavor through comments he receives from his viewers. They give him feedback in a number of ways which help him to develop his video presence within YouTube.

And these comments, it should be noted, are overwhelmingly positive and emotive--full of good will and encouragement. Yardly takes this encouragement and runs with it, focusing on an on-going narrative about his life incorporating old photographs, music and sound effects.

It's inspiring stuff and further evidence of the importance of telling stories. There's no reason, other than timidity and a failure of imagination, that libraries shouldn't be helping to facilitate these stories, making them part of their collection.

One last quote from the Harley/Fitzpatrick paper:

It's not the functionality of YouTube that inspires Peter to tell his life story but the social context that it appears within. The intergenerational nature of this context is highly influential, directing and informing the co-creation of the narrative. The commonality of human experience across ages and cultures that shows itself in the accompanying dialogue reminds us of a wider sense of kinship which transcends mere self interest. The appreciation of Peter's stories by his viewers also suggests that they see the relevance of the life stages of others in relation to their life stages. The creation of narrative, developed through Peter's videos, speaks of an affinity between different generations and a process of reciprocal learning.

Libraries should be in the thick of this.

1 comment:

Joe said...

I've been fascinated by the occasional vlogger I've stumbled across in YouTube. It seems like such an unnatural medium to me, and I don't find myself with the slightest motivation to join in "the discussion" that people have going back and forth.

That said, I love that it's happening, and I'm very interested to see where will go. Thanks for the pointer.