Mike Wesch – how an academic became Top of the Pops at YouTube

Here's a nice story to cheer us up after the Atwood disappointment. Yesterday at Web2expo I heard anthropologist Mike Wesch talk about his now ubiquitous video The Machine is Us/ing Us, discussed by Bruce Mason elsewhere on this blog. . It was enjoyable because Wesch, who said to me at the start 'it's great to meet another academic here', is a very unassuming guy who spends most of his time teaching at Kansas State University and the rest of his time studying a tribe in Papua, New Guinea, who have recently been introduced to reading and writing and whose experiences have greatly informed his approach to what we would call transliterate practice.


Still obviously shell-shocked from his rise to fame, and presumably from seeing his video displayed on multiple screens at the Web2expo welcome event hosted by Tim O’Reilly (I hope he got paid for that) he occupied one of the informal web2 open slots and good-naturedly battled to speak in a space that was also physically open and right next to the private VIP lounge, whence issued gales of noise that made it difficult to hear him at times.
Wesch explained that he had made the video to accompany an academic journal paper, and sent it to two techies and eight anthropology colleagues to check out whether it worked – something we’ve all done lots of times. One of the anthropologists posted it on a blog with three users (according to Wesch) and within no time at all he had collected 100 views on YouTube. He was incredibly excited. When it hit 253 views he was so proud he told his Department Head. The next day he woke up to find himself featured on his own DIGG front page. Then he got 450 Diggs. That weekend he and his wife stayed up late watching the numbers rise. On 2 Feb his video went to the top 5 on youtube and stayed there for 3 weeks, dislodging even Superbowl adverts. Within a week of posting it was on 6000 blogs according to Technorati, and after a week mentions of it began to appear in newsprint. After another week, it had appeared in papers in every continent around the globe.
What made his talk so endearing was his total delight in all of this. And he emphasised that he is a great believer in multimodal teaching, that chalk and talk still has its place, and that youtube is just another format, not a substitute. He was inspiring.

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2 thoughts on “Mike Wesch – how an academic became Top of the Pops at YouTube

  1. The piece popped up yesterday in an industry context at the MILIA conference in France http://www.milia.com An Italian journalist used it to introduce a plenary session on ‘where next?’, at the same time making the point – through its popularity – about the power of Web 2.0 re content distribution…
    It’s a beautiful piece of work – talk about form and content…

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