Staff Editorial: YouTube serves as either a tool or harmful distraction

Depending on how it is used, YouTube is either a tool or a distraction.

Chimes Staff, Writer

Last weekend, amid Bible-thumpin’ robots, Wendy’s ghosts, a modestly-attired Smeagol and four other guys with funny accents, Punk ’N’ Pie pacified an easily distracted audience with viral videos gleaned from YouTube in what played out like an episode of “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” sans Saget.

The third most popular site on the Web, YouTube, a video-sharing social media site, sits just below Google and Facebook for popularity, according to Alexa, a web information company that ranks sites according to traffic.

So what’s the catch? How did YouTube grow to such colossal proportions, driving people to its content day after day? As it has long been argued about television, the site provides cheap entertainment that allows us to easily turn off our brains for endless hours. For college students, it seems, it’s the perfect time-waster. It is often easier to devote your time to mindlessly watching other people’s lives than to get about living your own. These videos frequently feed an obsession fueled by a voyeuristic fascination, peering through closed doors and into the lives of others.

Admittedly, we’ve done it … after all, who doesn’t love ’90s Christian singers, an ape-infested German rap music video or footage of Vladimir Putin singing “Blueberry Hill”?

Degrading videos harmful for society

The problem intensifies when we focus more on videos that take us away from life at the expense of someone else’s dignity. Videos that rely merely on their slapstick or shock value often end up being three minutes of time for a 10-second punchline that disappoints more than it entertains. By watching and bumping up the number of hits, we’re adding our vote to that footage. We’re validating a societal norm that says that if you are foolish, you will be rewarded with short-lived fame.

We are devolving from a people that value culture and beauty to individuals who find cheap thrills in the graceless mishaps of others. A constant exposure to pain desensitizes. And when people are desensitized to the pain of others, society is bound to unravel.

Further blinding, YouTube and the like contribute to our society’s narcissism. Too many of us spend more time documenting our lives via social media sites than actually experiencing life together. People now live in hopes that their every move will turn them into some Internet sensation, aching for anonymous affirmation that their mundane talent or sense of humor makes them special. Just Google the latest Adele song and see how many covers there are by young girls — each one hoping to go viral, pull a Justin Bieber and get discovered.

YouTube can serve as a helpful tool

Changing channels, YouTube and like outlets are also used to educate, share archived news stories and bring great artists to fame. Instructional how-to videos on YouTube can help us change a car’s oil, pick up a hobby or teach us a new recipe. People all over can use YouTube very well in these ways, and in that it does not need to be a terrible waste of time. Our generation should not be remembered as one squandering our time in front of the tube, rather, it should be recognized as able to harness pivotal tools available to us in order to best affect our culture.

YouTube, like much else online, is a brilliant tool, but is only useful when employed well and with wisdom. Light fun has its time and place, but we should consider how much time we are willing to grant it. Our clicks are our vote. Our laughter and attention matter. Our time passes by — whether we’re conscious of it or not.

Let us value them and not give them away lightly. By all means, feel free to take a break and glance over a YouTube video. But when you find yourself plotting your own Single Ladies spoof video — or cheering when the piñata bat once again hits the wrong target — perhaps it’s time to step away and focus on intentionally living life with real people, not caricatures of the Internet.

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