YouTube – Tool or Time Waster or Big Brother

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 6:27 p.m. in , , , , ,
If you love film or TV shows or music videos or even stupid movies and you are hooked up to high speed Internet, you are probably half way to confessing your state of addiction to the web site, Youtube.com. Everybody shows up on YouTube sooner or later. You can watch both the United States Supreme Court and the Pope on this web site. Anyone who has a webcam, can play guitar and carry a tune has probably filmed himself or herself and posted the video on YouTube.

I am always amazed that no matter how obscure I think something may be, I will find a video of it there. In fact, when I was first let loose on it, I spent hours searching for old videos of Laura Nyro who was my favourite singer in high school and yes, Joni Mitchell too and found a lot of films to choose from. I’ve watched old episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on YouTube and looked at videos of San Francisco to help me with a piece that I’m writing. If you can’t be there, you can get a good idea of an area by watching a video of it.

Of course, there are issues of copyright infringement that get film and television companies a bit hot under the collar when they find their material illegally posted on YouTube. Viacom has sued Google for a lot of money. Where’s the profit in people having access to your wares for free? Apparently, even here, some companies have adopted an if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them attitude. One company, CBS, has allowed it and found an opportunity for making money by placing advertising in with the videos. Ironically, CBS is Viacom’s “sister company.”

While YouTube may be quite entertaining, there are some very real dangers that everyone should be aware of, particularly teenagers. We are living in an era when we are all Big Brother. Anyone who has a cell phone that is equipped to make videos can very easily film someone and post that film on YouTube almost instantly. So if you’re at a party and you stick the proverbial lampshade on your head and feel inclined to shimmy and shake to the delight of your equally inebriated friends, you may find that one of them thinks it’s an absolute hoot to post you on YouTube that night. The next day, you may think that film clip is humiliating and a prospective job opportunity might crumble into dust.

YouTube does have a privacy policy and people can request an offending video be removed but sometimes the consequences can become serious very quickly. At the beginning of August, YouTube was in the news as people were outraged by a video of three men in Saskatchewan shooting ducks and howling with laughter. They were finally arrested and faced conviction for breaking both provincial and federal wildlife laws. For these three, the consequences will live with them for a long time to come but of course, they were stupid enough to post the video in the first place so they have only themselves to blame.

As for the rest of us who prefer not to look like idiots for all to see, we will continue to find videos of children falling down or cats tumbling into toilets on YouTube. If you’re bored and you like that kind of thing, there will always be something to amuse you. A word of caution: if you’re at a party and you find someone holding up a video camera or cell phone at you, common sense would dictate that you drop like a fly and play dead. With any luck they will probably walk away. Stay still for a very long time just to be sure.

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Loving and Hating Wikipedia

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 9:24 a.m. in , ,
Wikipedia was founded in 2000 to be a free online encyclopedia in which anyone could contribute information. When interviewed on CBS founder, Jimmy Wales commented, “I mean, writing an encyclopedia as a hobby is obviously a fairly geeky thing to do. The real core thing that people believe in is free knowledge. So people can copy or modify it, redistribute it."

His belief that knowledge should be freely distributed has grown like a weed and the search engine Google has helped. If you don’t believe me, try it yourself. Search anything from rain to corn to Barak Obama on Google. The Wikipedia article on that subject will come up near the top of your list. To prove this to myself, I just typed the word Obama into Google and the Wikipedia article on Obama was third to the top.

No wonder elementary and high school students love Wikipedia. Who needs to go to a multi-volume encyclopedia and struggle with the alphabet when in two clicks of your mouse, you can have the information that you need for that pesky school project? Is this such a bad thing?

No…and yes. Wikipedia is great when it’s right and it usually is. According to one study done by the journal Nature in 2005, Wikipedia was only slightly less accurate than the Encyclopedia Britannica. It averaged about 3.86 errors as opposed to Britannica’s 2.92. (Britannica did argue that the study was flawed.)
For looking up a quick fact, Wikipedia is great. When you want to know who the youngest president of the United States was or which album I Want to Hold Your Hand was on, Wikipedia is a fast way to get these answers. For more intricate search questions, the quality of writing can get in the way of comprehension. One teacher that I met at a conference expressed the opinion that the writing on Wikipedia is often over most students’ heads.

The problem with Wikipedia is that there is very little editing or proofreading. When I looked up the singer, Rickie Lee Jones on Wikipedia, I found an extremely poorly written article rife with grammatical errors and typos. As for fact checking, it’s a catch-as-catch-can situation. Other Wikipedia writers can correct each other’s articles.

This open editing can lead to vandalism. In one famous case, comedian Stephen Colbert changed an article in the course of his show and said that, “…any user can change any entry. And if enough other users agree with them, it becomes true." In another case, former Kennedy advisor, John Seigenthaler, Sr. was accused of being involved in Kennedy’s assassination. This was quickly corrected but other articles continue to be attacked. Birth and death dates have also been found to be incorrect.

Young people are often tempted to plagiarize text from Wikipedia into their essays as it’s so easy to copy text from Wikipedia and paste it into a Word document within seconds however the vocabulary almost always gives them away.

My verdict on Wikipedia is that it’s a great source of information but you should always look further. Other web sites can be far more reliable than Wikipedia and can be used to back up what Wikipedia has to say. If you’re a parent arguing with your child about using Wikipedia for a school project, just let your child know that a teacher will be far more impressed if they use a book (remember books?) as a source too. Books that are targeted toward a child’s age group will also be easier for them to understand.

Like it or not, Wikipedia is here to stay and as with anything else on the Internet, using it right will save time and may just help you win that argument that John F. Kennedy was the youngest president elected to office. Now go find out who the youngest president actually was.

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