In it’s homage to You, TIME informs us that it is no longer…
“the powerful and the famous who shape our collective destiny as a species.”
As a member of a species whose collective destiny is in dire need of reshaping, this news is received with cautious optimism.
Along with the Internet there has come a surge in popularity for collaborative media. The problem with TIME’s analysis is that it’s several years too late. 2006 was a great year for YouTube, but all of the other examples cited, from MySpace to Wikipedia, and a bounty of blogs, were viable and growing long before TIME’s taking notice this year. You could easily go back to the presidential primaries of 2004, when candidates and independent advocates were organizing and fundraising, to observe this new media’s maturing significance. And that significance extends far beyond the trivialities of MySpace, restaurant reviews, and other leisure activities on which TIME seems to focus. There’s nary a mention of citizen media or education.
TIME itself captures the award for cop-out of the year by declining to honor any of the people that made these innovations possible, choosing instead to praise everyone, no matter what their level of participation. So I assume that the producers of the lonelygirl15 videos on YouTube are partying right along with former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Perv), an avid social networker.
Furthermore, by choosing You, TIME rejected other candidates for “the person who most affected the news or our lives, for good or for ill, this year,” Candidates like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with his growing influence in the Middle East and nuclear aspirations; Al Gore, whose documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” rocked the eco-house; or even the founders of the year’s true web sensation, YouTube. That’s right – TIME threw over all of that as well as Iraq, Darfur, North Korea, and the Democratic takeover of Congress, for You. You, lounging on your sofa in your underwear with a bag of Fritos in your lap. And You, cowering in your cubicle hoping your boss doesn’t catch you reading this. And You, trying to figure out how to attach this to an email to 400 of your dearest friends. (Hint: Just use this link). You’re all Person of the Year.
Given the rank absurdity of this selection, why then did TIME choose You? Seriously, I know You and, frankly, I’m not impressed.
The explanation starts with the magazine’s inability to perceive its own demise. TIME is an old media, dead tree, anachronism, grasping for relevancy in a world that is passing them by. So they are paying their respects to the new Electronic Godfather on the block with the hope that it will keep their little shop safe. At the same time, they are putting everyone who picks up their magazine at a newstand on the cover. I think they really believe that if you see yourself in the strip of mylar stuck to the surface, that you’ll be unable to resist forking over five bucks for your own copy.
Perhaps the most profound revelation in TIME’s essay about You, is the part where they admit that…
“You can learn more about how Americans live just by looking at the backgrounds of YouTube videos-those rumpled bedrooms and toy-strewn basement rec rooms-than you could from 1,000 hours of network television.”
Those of you who’ve seen 1,000 hours of network television know only too well how true that is (and you may want to leave the apartment once in a while). But I’m not sure whether that’s a tribute to YouTube or an indictment of television. Well, actually I am sure.