Culture

Not Just Entertainment

Ellen DeGeneres
Ellen DeGeneres
Ellen DeGeneres surprises some of her YouTube-star guests with an appearance by Nicki Minaj. | Youtube, Comedy, Nicki Minaj,

YouTube has impacted our culture in light and serious ways.

Seven years ago this month, YouTube was founded by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim, who all worked for PayPal. It began as a simple idea, and the first video that was uploaded was Jawed Karim at a zoo, in April 2005. The site was launched to the public in November 2005 but has grown and developed in so many ways since its birth. In fact, there are approximately 35 hours of material being uploaded onto YouTube every minute of every day. You can find just about anything you're looking for on there, and it is not just used for entertainment purposes but has come to impact our culture in many different ways.

One way YouTube has impacted my life is at work. I teach elementary school, and teachers have started to use YouTube for so many lessons that the school board decided to allow access at school, finally understanding how beneficial it would be in the classroom. YouTube allows teachers to bring the world into their classroom; whether they're showing a video about natural disasters occurring around the world, taking a walk through the Guggenheim Museum, viewing a documentary about how bridges are built, playing a clip from So You Think You Can Dance to help students understand choreography, or sharing an online lesson about how to make a line graph, the possibilities are endless. YouTube has allowed teachers an opportunity to connect with their students by making lessons more relevant, since they can watch live streaming videos or show clips from a program that aired the night before and connects to something they're learning about that day. It reaches visual learners, brings media into the classroom, and provides the opportunity for teachers to use up-to-date information to support ideas being presented in various lessons. YouTube has become part of my everyday life as a teacher and a go-to in many situations, because I know I can find almost anything on the site that will enhance my lessons and engage my students. It has changed the way I present information in the classroom and opened up many doors for learning opportunities.

YouTube has also opened up many doors for various artists in our world and impacted the way they express themselves by providing a medium where they can put their talents out there for the world to see. Dancers, singers, musicians, and acts from the simple to awe-inspiring are uploaded onto YouTube and viewed by millions around the world in a matter of minutes. Some artists who have YouTube to thank for their discovery include Greyson Chance, Cody Simpson, and, of course, Justin Bieber. Without YouTube, they and many other new talents may not have made it into the spotlight to share their talents with the world.

Another way YouTube has helped new talents get discovered is by becoming a regular part of television programs. The Ellen DeGeneres Show, for example, shows clips from YouTube all the time and Ellen often invites people she has seen on YouTube to come on her show. She has had memorable acts appear on her show, such as Sophia Grace and Rosie, Meghan Tonjes, Karmin, Giorgio Fareira, Walk Off the Earth, and Aunt Carol. After watching their videos on YouTube, Ellen invites them on her show to share their talents with her viewers, offering even more exposure than they already received on YouTube. It has completely changed the way artists put themselves out there, as they no longer need to send their songs to radio stations or get face time with record label executives, since they can simply upload a video onto YouTube and be seen by millions of people all over the world.

Since YouTube can be seen all over the world, it offers a new way to show others what your part of the world looks like or issues it may be dealing with. On a serious note, the site can be used to bring light to important happenings around the world and create awareness about problems we may not know about otherwise, since they're occurring halfway around the world. An example of this is when the disturbing video of Neda, a young woman dying in the streets of Iran during a political protest, was posted on YouTube and received millions of views, causing many people to learn more about the Iranian election of 2009 and the violence many were facing as a result. Though very troubling, videos like Neda's are something that are important for people around the world to see in order to truly understand the situation others in our global community face every single day. The fact that YouTube allows you to search for images such as these at the tips of your fingers and to view them in the comforts of your living room is pretty amazing.

Another serious use for YouTube is how police officers have come to use the site more and more. Within North America, officers have posted video surveillance clips on YouTube with descriptions of the offenders, hoping someone will view the post and help to locate those in question. It has been successful on many occasions, and officers have even taken courses on how to use the Internet to help with investigations. On the flip side, officers have also found offenders by watching videos that have been posted on YouTube, which depict criminal activity. The fact that police officers have added YouTube to their list of investigative tools shows how it has impacted our culture in yet another interesting way.

There are many positive ways YouTube has impacted society, by allowing non-profit organizations to send messages about their causes across this nation, or by providing a new medium to find how-to videos, recipes, or watch the latest music videos. As with most things in our world, however, there is a downside to YouTube as well. The fact that anyone can post a video on YouTube creates a problem for some, since it can become a bullying tool. Just recently, I learned of an incident that occurred in a classroom where a group of students were putting down another student, using foul language and uttering threats, while capturing it all on their cell phone. One of the bullies posted the video on YouTube for other students to view, making the victim even more upset as more people witnessed the event. Eventually, the police were involved and the video was removed from YouTube, but the fact that it was posted in the first place is concerning. That is one of the negative aspects of YouTube, but many are aware of the potential for bullying using social media websites, and more is being done to try and limit the number of occurrences. Those trying to put an end to bullying realize that the advances in technology have only increased the available resources for bullies to use in order to reach their victims.

There are always positive and negative sides to changes in our world, and YouTube has many examples of both. To think about how far we've come in terms of technological advances and availability of information, however, is astonishing. The fact that you can log onto YouTube, input almost anything into the search bar, and be given hundreds, sometimes thousands, of videos to choose from that are posted from all over the world, is hard to wrap your head around. YouTube has impacted our culture on so many levels that I think a clip should be posted as a thank-you message dedicated to Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim for coming up with such a great idea for sharing videos online. All this talk of sharing videos online, however, has got me to thinking that I should go and strap on my stepdancing shoes and practice my routine for my own possible YouTube video. Maybe I'll become the next talent discovered by Ellen--wish me luck!

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Updated May 6, 2017 6:00 AM EDT | More details

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