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YouTube

/ 08:50 PM January 24, 2013

I recently had to show a documentary, “The Aswang Phenomenon,” to a class using a personal file copy. About 10 minutes into the documentary, the video stalled. After unsuccessful attempts to get it to run, I gave up and told the class we’d have to postpone the showing.

I announced the postponement with some anxiety because I had planned on using the film for an afternoon class. Fortunately, refreshed after a noontime 10-minute power nap, I thought of checking if the film might be on YouTube. And indeed it was, together with statistics on the side showing it had been viewed more than 300,000 times! The afternoon class got its  aswang, and I got an idea for another column, which is to talk about the many uses of YouTube.

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Remember back in 2006 when Time magazine chose “You” as the Person of the Year? That came about because of the proliferation of user-generated content on the Internet, YouTube being a prime example. It was a place to post videos on just about everything, from the baby’s first steps and pet antics to wannabe celebrities showing off their skills (or lack thereof). Businesses caught on, using YouTube to promote products, trailers of upcoming movies, DVDs, CDs. K-Pop star Psy’s “Gangnam Style” continues to hold the world record for the largest number of hits, numbering more than 1.2 billion (not million).

TV stations, local and international, have caught on as well, with archives of their documentaries. Browse through YouTube, doing searches on the topics you’re interested in. You can also search with the names of networks like Al Jazeera (which has the best documentaries about developing countries), BBC, GMA7, ABS-CBN.  You can be more specific—for example, searching for GMA7 and Jessica Soho, or GMA7 and Howie Severino, or GMA7 “I Witness.”

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From BBC, for example, I’ve gotten complete episodes of series on the history of mathematics, of Islam and of science.  I even found a BBC documentary on the castrati, Italian males who were castrated in their youth to keep their voices “angelic” as they sang sacred music in Catholic churches.  The documentary included an English physician explaining the procedure and showing the instruments, never failing to elicit moans and groans from male medical students. (I use the film when I lecture about gender, to show what societies do to reconfigure biological sex.)

GMA7’s “I Witness” series are the most useful when it comes to local documentaries, with a wide range of stories about life in the Philippines, about the human condition. The films on poverty are powerful without descending to poverty porn or voyeurism, a disturbing trend I find in many indie films.

Note that in order to download YouTube you need extra software. There are many free ones out there. I use YTD Video Downloader. But don’t think you can download the latest movies here. YouTube is very strict about copyright. There are, however, excellent vintage films here—for example, “Manila Queen of the South,” dating back to the 1930s and showing the city’s past splendor.

Also note that many of the longer films are broken down to segments. They’re always labeled, so if you stumble on something that reads “2 of 8,” make sure you look for and download “1 of 8” and so on.

Video search engine

YouTube is becoming a kind of video search engine for just about any topic. Once I needed to check a particular acupuncture point. I typed in the point in YouTube, and actually found a video where the point was featured! Not only that, I realized there were dozens of YouTube videos showing all the acupuncture points, sometimes on live models, broken down to the meridians (channels running through the body).

There is another side to YouTube that’s still underutilized, and these are instructional videos, with visual step-by-step instructions. These videos come out of the American penchant for DIY (do it yourself) and are a boon for people who are bad with printed instructions.

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I recently found an old electric toothbrush and went off to the drugstore to get replacement bristles. The package had two brushes and a strange contraption. The instructions were in Spanish and in tiny print and I struggled, with little luck, in trying to remove the old brush. Then I thought of YouTube. I did a search “replacing brush CrossAction Oral B”—and there was a homemade video explaining the contraption. Brush replaced in a minute, and not only that, the video led me to still another video, this time from Oral B, on the correct use of electric toothbrushes. (Did you know you should spend at least 15 seconds on each of your oral cavity’s four quadrants? And you don’t brush vertically, as with a manual toothbrush.)

The mostly homemade instructional videos are wonderful. Besides toothbrushes and home repairs, you have music videos with lyrics attached. I can hear you grumbling about karaoke, but hey, have you ever thought of using them to practice your kids’ reading? For older kids, there are all kinds of cooking videos. And for really old kids, you even have three videos on making tapuy or rice wine!

Social control

One interesting development out of YouTube is the way it’s becoming an instrument of social control, and sanction. Here, people post videos of events they find disturbing, not necessarily a violation of a law but a breach of ethics. A recent example is that showing a company executive berating and harassing a traffic aide. A video is said to go viral when word spreads about it and people storm in to watch, the number of hits multiplying exponentially. When videos go viral, the public then demands some kind of action. In the case of that company executive, the Metro Manila Development Authority wanted to revoke, for life, his driver’s license, but the Land Transportation Office has said it can only impose a short suspension.

Not surprisingly, there have been questions about the ethics of posting videos with controversial scenes. A video posted several years ago of a Filipino patient having a bottle removed from his anus, meant to embarrass him, backfired on the doctors and nurses involved, leading, if I recall right, to disciplinary action.

In the Philippines we seem to favor negative YouTubes, perhaps reflecting the tabloid type of newsmaking that’s become so dominant. I’d like to see more positive uploads going viral and teaching people lessons. There was a video of a Good Samaritan New York cop giving boots to a homeless man. That’s gotten 1.2 million hits. In contrast, I couldn’t even find the video of a Manila traffic aide (or were there two of them?) refusing to accept a bribe.

It’s simple psychology: Good behavior that’s recorded and goes viral on YouTube can lead to positive reinforcement.  Negative publicity and punitive action only shame people, making them more careful the next time around and watching out for video cameras… or CCTVs.

As a whole, YouTube thrives because of reinforcement: People, families, businesses post stuff because they have all kinds of potential rewards, sometimes just feeling good at being there, for the world to see.

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TAGS: column, Michael L. Tan, youtube
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