This talk by Michael Wesch really is a fascinating study into the developing online community that is constantly changing and affecting our lives. While I could probably talk about all 55.33 minutes quite happily, I want to focus on the wider concept of the online community and the effect it has had on the basic social constructs of our lives.

While discussing Youtube, Wesch discusses how the most common type of video uploaded to Youtube are home videos. The most famous one, ‘Charlie bit my finger’, has amassed around 669,509,943 views, but most are intended for an audience no larger than 100 or so. Yet they are all gathered on the largest video sharing site on the web. It used to be that the way to share videos with friends and family was to send them a copy of the VHS tape, now we willing post of home movies online where they can be viewed, shared and reinterpreted by any stranger on the planet with access to the internet.

This really is an incredible phenomenon, that has adapted how we interact with people on a daily basis on an irreversible level.  We all have the basic psychological instinct to be part of a group, even if we you are an introvert you will still have at the least a small social group, to be completely cut off from any social contact is usually a sign of mental illness.

The internet has made it so much easier to stay connected with such a larger group of people, and even connect with people you would of otherwise never of had the opportunity to meet. However, in spite of these perceived connections, we are in reality becoming more isolated and less social. How many times have you been with friends and yet all been online at the same time, sometimes even talking over Facebook instead of just looking up from your screen? There is also the increasing popularity of people becoming friends and dating online, even with people they have never laid eyes on.

We are creating superficial social groups that give the perception of us having more friends and connections than we can realistically uphold. Everybody probably has at least one person on Facebook they haven’t spoken to in years and don’t even want to, but you still maintain that technological link.

Dunbars Number is a theoretical limit to the amount of people you can realistically maintain a meaningful and social relationship with. It is usually considered to be around 150. As other people enter that sphere, others get pushed out, and it is considered that being in a relationship can reduce the number of people you can keep in your sphere. And 150 is just grouping everyone together, in reality there are levels of spheres. Around 5 is considered the number of truly close people you will have in your life at any one time and can maintain.

And yet, we have so many more connections online. My house-mate told me about how two of her friends have dated people through Tumblr, and I know other people who have done similar. Yet was it a real relationship? Sure perhaps the feelings were real, but is there any actual meaningful connection with people online who are over the limit of our Dunbar numbers? Or is the internet and social media creating the comforting feeling of togetherness we as a species crave while we become more and more separated as we are lulled into the false sense of security? We call is ‘Social’ Media, but we are sitting in our rooms scrolling through countless opinions of people we will never meet while convincing ourselves that the follower count on our blog is a sign that we are considered worthwhile.

I sound incredibly skeptical, but honestly I’m just being realistic about a world I am happily a part of. When I was young I was perpetually bullied at school and the only companionship I found was with other people my age (though there is always the chance they weren’t) on a forum sharing our Fantasy artwork, talking about Dragons and creating online RPG’s. I am a child of the the social constructs of digital media. And though I now have very lovely and meaningful relationships in real life, I will always be eternally grateful to the safe haven I had with a group of people I will never meet and have completely lost contact with.

So maybe, no matter how superficial the togetherness and internet relationships are that we have online, they are still a fascinating phenomenon that definitely have a place in this world, especially considering that for some people they might be the only safe world they have.

P.S. Michael Wesch’s video ‘The Machine Is Us/ing Us, is really worth a watch.

Bibliography

Michael Wesch . (2008). An anthropological introduction to YouTube.Available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPAO-lZ4_hU. Last accessed 2nd March 2014.

HDCYT. (2007). Charlie Bit My Finger. Available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OBlgSz8sSM. Last accessed 2nd March 2014.

SparkNotes. (N/A). Groups. Available: http://www.sparknotes.com/psychology/psych101/socialpsychology/section8.rhtml. Last accessed 2nd March 2014.

Oxford Dictionary. (N/A). Dunbars Number. Available: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/Dunbar’s-number. Last accessed 2nd March 2014.

Ian Sample. (2010). The price of love? Losing two of your closest friends. Available: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2010/sep/15/price-love-close-friends-relationship. Last accessed 2nd March 2014.

 

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