Authentic human experience sounds more like a phrase you’d come across in a preachy sociology paper, but I think it’s a key ingredient in the rise of YouTube and internet video in comparison to its more production-heavy parent, television. One might usually think of authentic human experience in terms of cold technology vs. a warmer human touch, but I’m referring to in this post is a protected, highly presentational and distant interaction (TV) vs. a more unshielded, honest, and approachable interaction (many makers of internet video).
I believe this craving for authentic human experience in film or TV was already apparent in the rise of reality television shows. The “real world” is often a more complex and richly varied place than that of artificially lit studios and scripted dialogue. But even going beyond television and film, perhaps the people watching Paris Hilton shopping for her dog were watching for a closer human connection more so than the same people watching a woman shop for invisible groceries at a local live theater.
I don’t think I need to provide examples of what I’m referring to when you sit down in front of a television to see and hear the highly-regulated words coming from the mouth of someone reporting a bit of national news or when you’re watching an impersonal array of actors and actresses, big and small, on the silver or Netflix-powered screen. We’re all familiar with that everyday sense of distance between the audience and the people on their screens.
However, I would like to provide a few examples from YouTube of what I’m talking about. Amateur, no-budget quality may actually enhance this effect of being able to easily relate to the makers of the video and feel more on their level; some videomakers have even found it beneficial to leave in screw ups from their presentation rather than edit them out.
(<< NBC news)
Though they are not low-quality productions, Brady Haran’s vast selection of interviews with physicists, mathematicians, and astronomers have intentionally retained awkward moments, admissions of ignorance, and skeptical questioning from the cameraman (Haran). These raw editions grant more authenticity and honesty (which is important in the realm of journalism) and help thaw out the cold, impersonal image that the general viewership may have of scientists. Contrast this heated interview on atom-to-atom contact and a televised clip on the same subject, with high production values, sophisticated dress and academic settings, showing a handful of professorial researchers stating unchallenged facts, (originally) safe from the YouTube comments section. Who would you trust more?
Even when internet videos are made into more deliberate “productions”, their vulnerability, directness, and amateur qualities all make the experience itself more accessible on viewer-to-creator level. For instance, James Rolfe’s Angry Video Game Nerd series is hardly a show of the same proportions as something on Adult Swim or the like, but it was able to plug into a closer comedic connection with its specific audience than likely most shows on television networks have been able to do. (BTW, if any one pioneer of internet shows, reviews, or just watching other people play videogames on YouTube as a phenomenon deserves a special award for his or her impact, that person is James Rolfe.)
I should note that this advantage that many internet video channels have over their TV counterparts is not nearly as important as the advantage of specialization (searching and viewing things more specifically on topic or to your liking than what, say, the Discovery channel or Nickelodeon has to offer), but I do think this feeling of closeness to the content creator is amplified by the fact that they may be part of that same special interest that you yourself take part in.
Back in April, Jerry Seinfeld likened YouTube to a “giant garbage can”. While he may be right for the most part, I don’t think someone of his perspective is aware of internet videos’ strengths compared to film and TV’s weaknesses. Ah, well, at least we don’t have to rely on the public access channel anymore if we want a more down-to-earth encounter.