We hear a lot about "Web 2.0" these days, but it's hard to know exactly what internet wonks mean by that. The next evolution of the internet seems to be mainly about one thing: social networking. LiveJournal, MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, Flickr, Del.icio.us, Classmates.com, Squidoo, and countless independent blogs complement and fuel each other through innumerable links. It's amazing how quickly art, trends, phrases, and cultural memes of every kind spread across the internet through these connections.
Recently, though, the focus of these networks has shifted to the sharing of uncopyrighted video, a.ka. home movies. Nowadays everyone has a camcorder, or at the very least a high-quality videophone. And because of MySpace Video, Google Video, Vimeo, XTube, and the soon to arrive Viacom video archive — to say nothing of the behemoth YouTube — nothing is sacred these days. In fact, the biggest fault with YouTube is the unprecedented amount of sheer crap one has to sift through in order to find anything decent — or what I like to call "The Groin Whack." But once found, you can link video of said whack to your friends or post it as a MySpace comment, thus sorting through the crap as a team.
This all raises an interesting related question, though: What are YouTube and sites like it doing to the art of verbal storytelling?
When I say verbal storytelling I don't mean a bunch of people sitting around a campfire spouting off ghost stories. I just mean normal blue-collar talk. Personally, I love the acts of hearing and telling good stories. We all do. The best thing about storytelling is that it carries an intrinsic artistic license for both the teller and listener. Over time, stories evolve, becoming more dramatic or funnier or scarier through practice and reiteration. One deer becomes five deer. Fires become infernos. Women become supermodels.
Yet no matter how hilarious the YouTube video of a lady getting thwacked in the face with a rake may be, it's always the same lady, same rake, and same thwack. The home movie will never change, the perspective will never shift. But when you hear about the time your friends got drunk and stole an entire soda vending machine — not for the money but for the sodas — only to realize after the fact it wouldn't work in the back of a pickup truck since there were no power outlets, you always laugh.
In your mind you imagine the best camera angles, the perfect timing, and the greatest facial expressions. YouTube (and video sites in general), however, offer only a single version of reality. And because that one, spoon-fed reality will never change, we naturally become desensitized after enough viewings. You've heard the phrase "it's not as good as the book"? This is why.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not anti-video-sharing. In fact, I've seen some pretty fantastical, nonpornographic videos on YouTube that anyone would be hard-pressed to verbalize. And YouTube and similar sites can be a great place for up-and-coming filmmakers to get their start or for underground bands to network new videos (OK Go, anyone?).
But for shock-seekers browsing the endless stream of grainy video for agonizing, yet hilarious clips of human misery, stand advised: Don't watch any clip too many times. Because "The Groin Whack" is only funny ... until it's not.