mike wesch rocks the video essay

As if former guest blogger Mike Wesch didn’t have enough to do, teaching enormous classes, creating world simulations and so forth, he’s also created this video (thanks Kim for the heads up). My first thought was, wow, that’s annoying music… 🙂 but immediately afterwards I realized that this is a stunning example of a video essay–an explanation of digital text and yes, web 2.0, which is far more demonstrative than any written explanation I have ever read. It takes that time-honored injunction “show me, don’t tell me” to a whole new level. Bravo Mike! (oh, and watch carefully for the SM plug)


Christopher M. Kelty is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has a joint appointment in the Institute for Society and Genetics, the department of Information Studies and the Department of Anthropology. His research focuses on the cultural significance of information technology, especially in science and engineering. He is the author most recently of Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008), as well as numerous articles on open source and free software, including its impact on education, nanotechnology, the life sciences, and issues of peer review and research process in the sciences and in the humanities.

20 thoughts on “mike wesch rocks the video essay

  1. Interesting little linear video.

    Some of the ideas behind interaction are brought forward cleverly.

    There is such a focus on text that the sense of what text does over rides a variety of choices that interaction builds. What I mean is that building a line of text is usually a solitary work, but the combination of words that a conversation entails might be attached to non-linear work.

    This building of non-linearity properties is related to reuse. So that while using a hammer is what one person does and hence has a linear quality about it. In a community we learn from others how to use the hammer in many different situations.
    Doyle Saylor

  2. Thanks for posting this, Chris. It was fun to make and even more fun to share. I was hesitant to publish to YouTube at first, but ultimately it allowed my work to be disseminated very widely and allowed me to meet a number of people in many different disciplines thinking about similar issues. The video essay format isn’t for everybody, but I would definitely encourage others to give it a shot if inspiration strikes.

  3. mike… can you say a bit about the mechanics of making it: did you just videotape your screen or did you do something newfangled and computertastic? It looks very professional… to my increasingly untrained eye…

  4. I used CamStudio, a great little *free* program to record my screen and then used Sony Vegas Movie Studio to edit what I captured. Some screenshots are actually static captures created with WisdomSoft Screenhunter and then set in motion in Vegas (using the pan/crop function). This may sound complicated to the uninitiated, but I would encourage anybody to give video editing a try. The latest generation of editing software tends to be very intuitive and easy to learn.

  5. Hi Mike,

    I am a sociologist doing research on social software and must say that your video-essay is a fantastic introduction to this topic. Thanks a lot for posting this work!


  6. An ever increasing proportion of my time is being spent trying to explain to colleagues the knowledge production and distribution environment we increasing find ourselves in. Mike Wesch’s video essay will be a useful resource for me in this daily task. Thank you for building and sharing it.

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  8. this is so interesting – there is an ongoing discussion/argument on anthrodesign listserv about this video beginning yesterday. a number of anthropologists were criticizing the short video for not being critical enough. one critique stated, “I found it an interesting animation of much of the promotional drivel I hear from promoters of so-called social networking software, completely lacking in any critical perspective or sense that such claims about the world need to be evaluated against evidence.”

    soon thereafter, others tried to frame the video in marxist perspective: is it power or resistance? kind of a tired argument. it does raise a question: is this essay ethnography? i don’t know that it’s even try to be ethnography, so my opinion is no. but that question is more about professional identity of anthropologists rather than the subject at hand: Web 2.0

    that said, it would be great if Mike Wesch could follow up this video with more insight on how the concepts listed at the end of the video are being transformed. better yet, now that we know – sort of – how Wesch did it, perhaps others should collaborate. it looks like fun, though i’d pick less annoying music, too 🙂

  9. This is really exciting to see the conversation about these things grow. We desperately need to be having this kind of critical discussion. I sent a request to join the anthrodesign listserv. Hopefully they’ll accept me and I can join the conversation. I’ll try to post something back here as well for those who are not on the listserv. Perhaps another (more critical) video essay is in order. I already have the music, and if you thought the last song was annoying … 😀

  10. “I used CamStudio, a great little free program”

    Cool. This is what I was asking myself when watching the clip last night.
    Also I thought the movie so explicitly transports a certain position. But the only critique apart from content mentioned position that one could discuss is that the clip is a little too long.
    Great work! Finally I know what a videoessay is.
    And uses of said program for online ethnography purposes I can think of excite me. thx for sharing.

  11. Mike’s Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us video is so provocative, it’s hard to know where to begin. With form? Content? Commentary? Whatever one’s response to the argument presented, it is, as ckelty introduced it here, a masterful example of a video essay. Thanks for making and posting it. I see it as a great discussion starter and teaching video that I plan to share with all and sundry. May it inspire more work in this vein from all corners.

    As an essay, it’s certainly text-centric; as a video it presents a closed narrative where an authoritative reading of the work is narrated through images of the words themselves. I see here the traditional “voice of god” cleverly updated to “desktop of god,” or rather, “desktop of user playing god,” a role one pretty much has to take on as author of an essay, no? I don’t see it as a shortcoming, nor how this is any more linear than any other video.

    For those who use the sites and media pictured, the images are not just textual, they depict familiar interfaces and seens [sic]–the multilingual salutations that welcome you to Flickr, Wikipedia’s jigsaw globe, the austere utility of Notepad, the colorful utility of Google, and the YouTube logo, so sweetly poached for the filmmaker’s own “Digital ethnography” mark. As so many, I spend much of my life moving around in realms of textuality, so it’s refreshing to see that world in a movie. A rare treat.

    I learned about this video from a geek friend, that is, in a non-Anthropology context, so the SM screenshot and anthropology stuff came as a joyous surprise. It was a bit eerie at first, but then so cool to see this posted to YouTube from a professor of cultural anthropology. w00t, as they say in some circles. It’s a good day for cultural anthro when work like this gets such visibility.

  12. Excellent work, Mike! And great to see so much conversation happening in so many places. As for the critical discussion within anthro/design — I’d love to see some response videos!

  13. Wouldn’t that be great? Imagine a whole video conversation, critically informed, with all of the insights we all think anthropology has to offer, playing out in front of thousands of people. I’ll certainly do my best to keep the conversation going.

  14. Another perspective on the non-linear ‘language’ issue is “Culture and the Senses, Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community” UC Press, Geurts, Kathryn Linn, 2002.

    This is a study conducted in Ghana about the Ano-land, and their language Anlo-Ewe People in the sense of a language can convey no boundary between body and world. So their language elaborates the senses and the body in a continuum not present in Western culture.

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  16. I ran across this while writing on multimedia developments and uses within qualitative research. My own research is on social networking uses, and this gives me some great ideas on how to present that research. Thanks for a thought-provoking essay!

  17. this movie is art and it is the reality today

    the best part is the connecting people from all over the world

    I wish it was possible to translate this movie to all langugues!

    warm greetings from Israel

    Ofer Weisglass

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