A brief history of whatever

The recent ALT-C conference in Manchester included a keynote presentation from Michael Wesch, the social anthropologist from Kansas State University who is perhaps most famous for his work on YouTube and his viral videos A Vision of Students Today and Web 2.0 the Machine is Us/ing Us.

The first half of the keynote looked at issues of identity / meaning and used the device of examining A Brief History of Whatever to introduce the concept of trying to get students beyond the MTV generation / narcissistic use of the word to dismiss a person or argument.

Wesch hopes that his use of Web 2.0 tools for a clear purpose can help change attitudes, so that they are more likely to say “let’s do whatever it takes, by whatever means necessary,” to come together.

Wesch seeks to take his students on a journey from being knowledgeable to being knowledge-able.

By this he means:

  • Getting them finding, analysing, critiquing and questioning information
  • Participating by connecting and collaborating with each other
  • Converting them from consumers to creators of culture

Wesch expressed some concern about the emphasis on critical thinking, espousing the view that this fosters a mindset of looking for what is wrong with information. He wants to move beyond that to creative thinking where students can recognise what is right and wrong with information.

Thinking back to his time as a researcher living amongst communities in Papua New Guinea he recognised the limits of technology and said that it’s not the platform, but the purpose that is important in any deployment of new teaching methods.

The full keynote is available from the ALT-C Blip TV channel, with other speakers from this year and last year. Further online lectures from Wesch include An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube filmed last year.

Intute features more internet resources on Anthropology, Sociology and academic use of YouTube.