I like music—especially classic rock and jazz. About 10 years ago, in one of those life-is-too-short moods, I decided to learn to play the guitar. I wanted to play bass guitar but I was advised to go one step at a time. So I bought an acoustic guitar and hired a tutor who would come home once or twice a week. He was about my age, liked my kind of music, used to play in a band, and was an excellent teacher. Alas, I did not have the patience and gave up a few months later. But to the credit of my tutor, I can still play the opening notes of Day Tripper.
These days, if you have a guitar and want to learn the basic stuff, you just do a Google search for tabs. Chances are your search will also take you to video lessons on YouTube. When you think of five websites that changed the way you live, work and play, YouTube will probably be on that list. Depending on your age, work and lifestyle, your list (excluding Google, of course) could include Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Hotmail, eBay, Blogger, Flickr, and so on. My five (I am not on Facebook or Twitter) would be Wikipedia, iTunes, Skype, Amazon and YouTube. There’s also a sixth—Grooveshark, a music streaming service where I can listen to any song I like at any time of day or night.
YouTube effect: This five-year-old has touched the lives of ordinary people.
YouTube is 5 this month. Like most successful Silicon Valley garage start-ups, this video-sharing site, too, has a legend about its birth. In 2005, two 20-something men went to a party and when they told a friend about it, he didn’t believe them. So they decided to send him a video of the party. The problem was videos were heavy to email as attachments. And so they created YouTube. A year and nine months later, Google bought the fledgling company for $1.65 billion (that’s over Rs7,821 crore at today’s prices).
According to Google, the five-year-old site now gets more than two billion hits daily—or double the number of people who tune into America’s three prime time TV stations combined. It’s the world’s third most visited website after Google and Facebook.
Ever since it appeared on our computer screens it has added a new dimension to our search for information. It’s become a powerful communication tool. Earlier this year, when the Indian Premier League season was on, I watched a few matches live on YouTube in between working on my blog and browsing the Net. When I missed watching Obama’s speech at Cairo University on TV, I found it later on YouTube, where I also watched the video of a young girl being flogged brutally by the Taliban somewhere in Afghanistan, and a woman protester dying on the streets of Iran. The unnamed people who shot this video won a prestigious journalism prize. At the time of writing this column, Pakistani authorities had blocked YouTube for “sacrilegious” content.
Thanks to the site, ordinary people have become household names across the globe. Nearly 100 million viewers have watched the footage of Susan Boyle’s performance of I Dreamed a Dream on Britain’s Got Talent.
I visit YouTube for just about any topic that has a visual angle. We have watched videos of cookery shows, seen documentaries that we would never have been able to lay our hands on, heard some brilliant talks (“A universe from nothing” by physicist Lawrence Krauss, for example), seen clips from music concerts (including an outstanding performance of Mortal Coil Shuffle by Ian Siegel) and full-length political debates. We also heard the Lyrebird sing.
We have also learnt how to make a catapult, spin the yo-yo, remove grease off the cooking range, and found out the difference between a Windsor knot and a four-in-hand knot.
Some years ago when our son was packing his bags for college, I thought it was a good time to teach him how to fold shirts. If you have lived alone for a long time you learn many useful tricks. He told me not to bother because YouTube has a demonstration of “how to fold your T-shirt in three seconds.” It’s been viewed by three million people. I tried it and trust me, it works. Brilliantly.
And we are only five years into this technology. Imagine what can happen in the next five.
Shekhar Bhatia is a former editor, Hindustan Times, a science buff and a geek at heart.
Write to Shekhar at firstname.lastname@example.org