Welcome to Google!

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Welcome to Google!

by Patrick Nagle

Watch "Welcome to Google!"

Many participatory online communities thrive off the free labor of their participants, whether it be producing content, posting comments, creating user groups or simply watching videos. (Tiziana Terranova's wonderful book Network Culture first introduced me to this line of inquiry, and she explores it with greater depth than space allows here.) "Welcome to Google!" interrogates how YouTube, which is owned by Google, mobilizes unpaid labor to produce advertising revenue & valuable data about users' preferences. Popular conceptions of YouTube, however, often overlook that watching videos has been integrated into flows of advertising and information capital, instead characterizing such practices of spectatorship as "unproductive" or "leisurely." But we cannot conceive of watching online videos as all work or all play: capital increasingly blurs the boundaries between production and consumption, between work and leisure. On the other hand, the boundaries between the "developed" and "developing" world are being reinscribed in virtual space because delivering content to Central and South America, parts of Asia, and Africa can be costly, and advertisers see little appeal in pitching their products to the poor of the Global South. I hope that my video will make viewers ponder exactly what they are doing when they watch videos, and what structures enable (or prevent) the provision of these videos at no cost.

In order to ground my analysis of YouTube in terms of labor, I decided to parody the discourses of human resources and job training. Job training videos often attempt to interpellate the viewer by using second person pronouns, a practice that I took up for its potential to ground the viewer in her present (especially at the video's end). I decided to employ parody (instead of a more straightforward pastiche) because it provided me opportunity to introduce a more substantial critique while staying true to the conventions of the medium. Humor allowed me to emphasize the tension between following some of the staging and genre conventions of YouTube - the webcam confessional, the reaction video (itself a sort of uroboros of production and consumption), onscreen text annotation - and my decidedly less commonplace conception of watching videos as labor.

The project is site-specific to YouTube, using the site's identity as a kind of indexical marker to hail the viewer; my video thus implicates itself in that which it calls into question and in so doing calls itself into question. I hope that the moment at the end of the video somewhat parallels the footnote in Althusser's "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" in which he demonstrates how his own text exists within ideology; perhaps this kind of implication provides a more effective way to think about radical media than any simple opposition between authenticity and recuperation.

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