Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Happy Birthday Youtube! - Reflections on a shifting culture!

Youtube is 5 years old today! How is it possible that something so young has become so much a part of our normal lives? Do you remember when you used to wait for the news in order to see that clip again, or Match of the Day to see the goals? Do you remember having to watch ‘You’ve been framed’ on a Saturday tea time to see Grandma falling from the trampoline headfirst into the waterbut? Do you remember having to go into record stores to listen to songs that you might want to buy or waiting to see film trailers at the cinema?

The very fact that we can’t really remember life before Youtube proves the point. If you are looking for evidence of the ever increasing pace of technological advance & our reliance upon it, then Youtube is a case in point. Other than mobile phones, the advent of the internet itself & the phenomena of social networking - facebook, twitter et al - it’s hard to believe that any single idea has had a greater impact in shaping popular culture for post moderns around the world.

Slow burn trends in clothes, music & film now race around planet earth in a matter of days. What we affectionately call ‘the 1960’s' could never happen again in the Youtube generation. It just wouldn’t have had time to develop before it was over & we were onto the next thing. We’d have missed the Beatles & leaped straight to Justin Bieber! The flip side of all this speed is that no generation is more quickly bored. We’ve got so hooked on the latest that even the still very new loses its appeal in our thirst for cultural relevance. This faddism has led to a shallower pool of creativity, to imitation rather than true invention.

The You tube generation have to be in control. They have to vote on their TV shows, they rebel against organisation, believing the lie that organic, underground is authentic – even though they are now part of the mainstream. They can’t commit to anything, can’t do long term, can’t save, don’t have pensions, won’t join institutions & rebel against authority. They would rather rage against the machine than join a political party. The Youtube generation can’t even vote a government into power anymore, they get the coalition that reflects their mood swings - though they will express their democratic right to decide who wins the X Factor & gets the Xmas number one.

As the Youtube generation grows up, you wonder what is in store for a demographic who can’t concentrate long enough to enjoy anything twice, to listen to a whole album all the way through, to watch an entire TV programme to the end, to actually read a book – to cope with life in all its mundane, boring moments. How do you handle it when you can’t flick channels, choose something new, go for the next thrill? Have we really become so disposable, so throwaway, the give up when it gets tough generation? – what does that do to a society, to relationships, to communities, to our commitment to God?

The challenge as ever in engaging with such a strong defining culture is to wake up & realise how much it shapes each one of us. Here’s the first step – ‘Hi, my name's Steve, & I’m part of the Youtube generation!’ We’re going to keep laughing with them as they watch, ‘Charlie bit my finger!’ for the 258 millionth time! But then why don’t we lead them gently by the hand, away from the mouse & the TV remote, out into the slow lane, into the real world – the one that reality TV doesn’t really show, where real life in all its boredom & brilliance has yet to become a parody of itself.

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