Cute Cats & Democratic Acts (?)

One day earlier this week, I woke up at the crack of dawn with plans for early-morning exercise. However, these plans were quickly squashed when I realized that heavy rains and oppressive levels of humidity would not make running outside a pleasant or advisable way to start my day. Wide awake in the wee hours of the morning and not quite sure what to do with myself, I decided to turn on the television in order to tune into some early-morning newscasts. Given that this is not something that I normally do I was fairly disillusioned when I witnessed a 5-minute segment consisting of the newscasters showing and commenting on various trending YouTube clips.

Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate the occasional cute cat video or a singing and dancing flash mob as much as the next person, but somehow I don’t feel that this constitutes information that should be broadcast on a national or local news station. (Unless, perhaps, the video features a national or local band of cute cats who have formed a singing and dancing flash mob). I’m not sure when I became such a curmudgeon, but upon being shown this video in its entirety and hearing the national newscasters emphatically appreciate the bunny’s cuteness, I was annoyed.

My initial thoughts were: this is not news. To be honest, I can’t for the life of me understand how this recent trend of creating TV shows that showcase a collection of viral video clips from around the world (à la Mr. T’s World’s Craziest Fools) has gained so much popularity. Maybe it’s just people’s updated fascination with shows akin to America’s Funniest Home Videos… And if that is the case, then my disbelief is how the hosts of these shows have a job. Aren’t they just capitalizing on someone else’s creativity and work? But I digress.

Back to my initial assertion that YouTube clips aren’t news. I have to admit that I surprised myself by my forceful internal reaction to what I had seen. My initial argument was that Canadians are not interested in a tiny bunny being bottle fed. But then this led me to an inevitable counter-argument: maybe some Canadians are. And isn’t this one of the potentials of the Internet, broadly, and social media platforms, specifically?

Nowadays anyone with access to, and basic skills/a willingness to use the Internet can post content that is personally-relevant. Whether or not this content is viewed as meaningful to the larger collective (and ultimately broadcast on the local or national news) is debatable; nevertheless, this is one example of how Web 2.0 has democratized information flow. No longer are news anchors the sole custodians of headlines and stories from around the world. Now everyone with a smartphone and data connection has the opportunity to capture, upload, and disseminate “breaking news” from their own backyard.

Citizens’ ability to exercise their voice and agency via online media in order to contribute to the world around them can be viewed as incredibly exciting. However, this also produces some important considerations: What are the positive and negative ramifications of increased communication channels? Which voices are being heard and which are silenced? Are we really encountering a proliferation of ideas or is increasing information flow actually narrowing our scope of interactions and perspectives?

These are just some of the ideas that I engage with in my academic work. I will be writing more about these ideas in future posts, but if you’re itching to read more (and I know you are!), have a look at two recent book chapters (1, 2) that I co-authored, which appear in Educational, Psychological, and Behavioral Considerations in Niche Online Communities (IGI-Global).

Until next time,