The last week of 2009 is a time to reflect not only on the last year, but the last decade as well. The internet may not have been invented in the 2000s, but it certainly became more integral to our daily lives. Among the internet innovations that have transformed not only the web but how we communicate, YouTube stands out.
The social web revolution of the last half of the decade made the internet more accessible. Instead of acting as a one-way flow of information, everyday people could have their own corner of the web and interact with their friends digitally with ease. But Mashable makes the case that, above Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and other services, YouTube is the top social media innovation of the decade because it not only offers users a way to display content they have created, but also offers other users a way to easily share content that they like.
But the 2000s became the Decade of YouTube not because of technology, but because of cultural political impact. In 2006, YouTube had a profound impact on politics, famously changing the course of the Virginia U.S. Senate race (and, likely, the course of the 2008 Presidential nomination). In 2008, Barack Obama announced his candidacy for the Presidency in a YouTube video.
But more important than that, activists have used YouTube to make their case on a number of issues through short videos that have been passed from one person to another. Activists have taken down ACORN with a YouTube video. Both sides of the health care debate have made their cases with short online videos.
In fact, the current political climate almost necessitates thinking in terms of short, catchy videos, and not just to defend against a “Macaca Moment.” If you and your side can’t make your case with a funny or poignant two-to-four-minute video, you simply cannot win. Sound bites were important for media coverage in 1999, but now campaigns must actively create sound bites – for the media, for their volunteers, for their donors, and for the voters they hope to win over.
Some might say this dumbs down the political process. But focusing a message into a short video – or into a 140-character Twitter update – doesn’t need to leave out salient points. It does require a fundamental understanding of an issue. As Mark Twain said, “With a hundred words to do it with, the literary artisan could catch that airy thought and tie it down and reduce it to a cabbage, but the artist does it with twenty, and the result is a flower.” Or more succinctly, brevity is the soul of wit.
There have been many ways the Internet has changed politics in the last decade, but YouTube’s impact goes beyond the internet.