What Youtube has Done

As a toddler exploring the world (the house) my daughter went through a short faze of swiping every flat surface to see what would happen.

“Daddy, TV is broken!”

It was all very cute, and fair enough too. Kids are observant, and what this kid observed was multiple laptops, tablets and phones (I’m so glad she also saw her mother and I reading actual books, and so pick up that habit too). I explained that not everything is a touch screen and that the juice wouldn’t just materialise in her hand if she swiped the fridge.

Only a few years later (having sworn I never would) I started giving dad-speeches like, “You know, when mummy and daddy were kids there was no Internet”.

“Was the WiFi broken?”

“No, baby girl. There was no WiFi. There was no Internet at all”.

“How did you watch Youtube?”

I explained, and my six-year-old daughter’s eyes opened wide, then her forehead furrowed. This was a struggle to take in. I thought of my own father’s dad-stories about watching the first TV in town through the store window, and how he never had the two glorious channels of colour TV that I grew up with in the Australian bush. I’d thought him ancient of course, and realised that the now-exponential tech acceleration must mean my own daughter thinks I spent my childhood running from dinosaurs.

Anyway, we do have Youtube now, and seemingly have forever. It was only launched in 2005 though, between Facebook a year earlier and Twitter a year later. It’s hard to recall how we got by in the dark recesses of the 20th Century.

Youtube has evolved, and shaped cultural globalisation. We were astonished to learn a decade ago that viral-videos like Evolution of Dance and Charlie Bit my Finger had received tens (now hundreds) of millions of hits. Then music videos began taking over, generating numbers that the human mind can’t suitably comprehend, like the distance to neighbouring galaxies, or Jeff Bezos’ net worth.

In 2015, Psy’s satirical hit Gangnam Style made headlines for being the first video to be viewed a BILLION times. This highlighted a monumental, technology-driven cultural shift. I can safely say that during my entire childhood, the AM radio on the breakfast bar never once played a Korean-language song.

The first Youtube clip to reach three (then four, then five) billion views was the Spanish-language hit, Despacito.

It’s hard to process a number like 5.2 billion, but I tried… and had to crunch those numbers four times to believe it. As (currently) the most viewed Youtube video, Despacito alone has been collectively viewed for… 46,000 YEARS and counting. The clip was uploaded in 2017.

Over 100 clips have now been watched at least a billion times and over 300 hours of new video is uploaded every minute.

Of course, attached to anything this massive must be a dark side. In a race for instant fame and fortune, little prevents idiots from doing idiotic things. Youtube has, in its success, provided such a platform, for run-of-the-mill aspirational Darwin Award winners, to hate speech enthusiasts, to child abusers, to accidental manslaughter.

I just have to force myself to believe that my now ten-year-old daughter will be content with cartoons and Katy Perry… forever.

What a time to be alive, as they say.


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