One form of technology that has very noticeable life-changing properties is the tech used to aid communication. Finding better, efficient, intuitive means of making and sending messages to one another has helped accelerate change. It can be measured informally. Pick up any book about the history of inventions and you’ll find that inventions created after 1900 take up more space in the book than any pervious era of history. Why? Because communication technology, in the form of telephones, radio, TV, film, print media and (later) the internet, made it easier to spread new ideas. By hearing about new ideas, you make more new ideas which are then built on quickly after you share your ideas. But we all know that not all ideas are good. Some are terrible.
Another thing media technology has done is increased our awareness of the world. We know more about the world now than our great-grandparents did 100 years ago. Thanks to books, film and TV we know what a desert is like without the need to actually travel to one to see for yourself. But we are much more aware what is going on in the world (whether we what to or not) thanks to been able to see and hear things live, as they happen.
However, anyone who has used communication technology will have worked out that the sender can control what message is been sent to the receiver. Throughout history the people who had access to the means of making messages had the ability to control nations, if they wanted to. But that’s only possible because, in the past, the message making tech was expensive and required some infrastructure to be able to be sent to the receivers. But now, as the means of making massages become increasingly affordable, and the infrastructure to send them is available to all with such tools, such control is becoming more difficult … or is it?
Media studies people have noted many “effects” caused by changing media technology. There is the Gutenberg Effect, the Hearst Effect, the BBC effect, the CNN Effect, the Al Jazeera Effect (I made some of those up, but you get the idea). And here is the latest example … The YouTube Effect (which may soon be succeeded with the Tik Tok Effect).
The YouTube Effect is a film that catalogues through interviews the history of the platform, from its inception in 2005 to the role in creating the era of “alternative facts.” A similar film can be made about the printing press, radio, film, and other media outlets that have changed society. Such films will be long and may be better covered as a series of films, as those other mediums have had a long multifaceted history. You can make a direct comparison with the 1985 TV series Television, made by Granada. But YouTube, been relatively young, can have all its facets, from “Charlie bit my finger” to alt-right conspiracies, completely covered by just one documentary.
This film may become an important future historic document, as the consequences of YouTube are still developing as I write this. Could there be a sequel in the future, following up the story? Maybe.
Review by Gordon Wallace