This is Not about YouTube

From the video, United Breaks Guitars

From the video, United Breaks Guitars
I’m pretty sure that it was in Pittsburgh last week, that a young man came up just after my address, to tell me the story of “United Breaks Guitars.”  It was my first exposure to the story, as I’ve not been paying enough attention to my RSS reader lately.

It appears that after landing in Chicago for a connect to Nebraska, Dave Carroll and band, Sons of Maxwell, were alerted when another passenger exclaimed, “My god they’re throwing guitars out there.”

Here’s a short version, from Carroll’s web site says…

In the spring of 2008, Sons of Maxwell were traveling to Nebraska for a one-week tour and my Taylor guitar was witnessed being thrown by United Airlines baggage handlers in Chicago. I discovered later that the $3500 guitar was severely damaged. They didn’t deny the experience occurred but for nine months the various people I communicated with put the responsibility for dealing with the damage on everyone other than themselves and finally said they would do nothing to compensate me for my loss. So I promised the last person to finally say “no” to compensation (Ms. Irlweg) that I would write and produce three songs about my experience with United Airlines and make videos for each to be viewed online by anyone in the world. United: Song 1 is the first of those songs. United: Song 2 has been written and video production is underway. United: Song 3 is coming. I promise.

You can read a longer version of the story on the same page

Between July 6 and my finding of the video (Aug 23), the first song (United Breaks Guitars) had been seen 5,129,955 times.  As a result of the viral penetration of the video and the apparent uproar aimed at United Airlines, United offered compensation, as indicated by this statement, YouTube’d by Carroll four days later (July 10).

The second song was posed on August 17, where the band pokes more fun at the whole affair.

There are two elements of this whole story that dovetail into my standard threads of conversation.  First of all, we are experiencing and participating with a new information landscape where the message — the spin — is no longer issued exclusively by the few who can afford the spin-mongers and media outlets.  We all have a voice today.

But just having a voice is not nearly enough.  Secondly, a video on YouTube did not make this story.  It was a young man, his band, and a very clever and well-performed song that made it.  They communicated their message compellingly with charm, humor, and bite — and they got the attention and response of a giant.

This is why teaching writing is not nearly enough for our children to be fully empowered members of their society.  It’s not that everyone will produce viral videos for YouTube.  But, because of YouTube and the avalanche of information that characterizes our society, messages must compete for attention to earn audience, customers, collaborators, etc. — and this means that beyond learning to write well, students must learn to communicate with images, sound, video, and animation.  They must have a command of the entire spectrum of content.

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8 thoughts on “This is Not about YouTube”

  1. Really? Is this really a rationale or model for school reform? Is every clever use of the Web a catalyst for revolutionizing education?

    I have no idea what you mean by “must have a command of the entire spectrum of content.” Content is a noun, not a verb. Isn’t the moral of this story that kids need instrumental music lessons and music theory instruction??

  2. PS: Is there any reason for concern that “having one’s voice” is increasingly dependent on being Martin Scorsese? You used to be able to make the world a better place by attending a town meeting.

  3. I’m puzzled about Gary’s comments. Seems to me that David’s post is making a broader point than just the use of music and video in this one instance. This example points to a larger concept — the web has made a difference in how many others (potentially) we can reach with any message.

    The downside of this “democratization” is the stiff competition for attention that this huge stream of content creates. To be an effective communicator in such an environment, then, one needs “command” of as many avenues of communication as one can get. I’d say that the spectrum of content indeed includes instrumental music, maybe music theory, and a whole host of other ways to communicate a message.

    The key words in Gary’s second comment are “used to be” It’s still possible and desirable to make your point in that town hall meeting — but many more than just those in attendance are going to hear it. So if it’s to be effective beyond (or even within) those four walls, it had best be as articulate and well-delivered as you can make it.

  4. I REALLY appreciated this. I wrote about it on my blog becaue 1) it is a great story and 2) s aimilar thing happend to me some years back and I didn’t have this great outlet for letting the world know about it.

    Keep up the good work on your blog and in the education world. I love to read wht you have to say.

    BTW, we are NC neighbors! (I am in W NC though!

  5. Gary, it is about finding one’s voice. I worked with a middle-school teacher who had spent an entire unit on the Holocaust. They had read books, watched movies, written essays, etc. I suggested the students take the poems they had written and create movies with them. This very experienced teacher was flabbergasted at the results. She told me it wasn’t until the students created their movies that the meaning of the Holocaust “leaked into their hearts”.
    Not every student is a potential Scorcese, but the process of learning the subject, choosing the images, editing, and presenting beats writing a simple paper any day.

    1. My entire career has been dedicated to student creativity and authentic voice. This is not news to me.

      I just don’t know why/how every new use of the Web is either 1) new or 2) instructive or 3) integral to the mission of education or 4) requires us to reinvent education.

  6. I’ll comment here, rather than directly to Gary’s comment, since several have already responded. My point was not to say that everyone should become a Scorcese. Instead, I wanted to say that this was not a story about technology — a story about YouTube. It was a story about communication. I fear that our response to stories like these is to teach our children how to make videos. Our response should be to teach our children how to communicate. That could include video and probably should. But it’s about communication.

    That said, Gary, as he often does, has stretched my thinking. Not everyone can be a Scorcese! Not everyone can make a viral video on the web. There is only so much “attention” out there for the drawing. But, with a democratization of media, might we come to feel that we should be able to address a global listenership, when few of us ever will.

    Have we lowered a bar that remains out of reach?

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