Nov 13, 2010

On VYou: Carving New Turf for Philosophy in Cyberspace

A few days ago, I came across a story from the Atlantic, From Social Media Startup VYou:  Endless Questions, about yet another new social media site in my twitter feed.  As it turns out, going back into a twitter search on "VYou" -- after weeding out all of the posts of"so-and-so's video response to. . . . " -- there's several other interesting stories out there about this type of social interaction, from apparently more cutting-edgy sites, like TNW and Black Web, explaining what kind hybrid or cross this new site by reference to yet other sites, and worrying about whether VYou will succumb to pornification as did Chatroulette.

Busy with classes, meetings, preparing for the last of the six or seven presentations I've made this semester (after a while, you lose count, but thankfully they don't blur together so badly that I think I'm supposed to talk about Aristotle and internet flaming but actually am expected to talk about Plato's dialogues and close readings, or vice versa), I put off exploring the site until I had finished my presentation at the Saturday Academy earlier today on CLA grading rubrics.  I'm still the office now, having created a VYou profile, recorded the requisite "waiting" and "no response yet" videos, then responded to three questions, the first two asked by a colleague (our debate coach, here today to meet with his team), the other anonymously.

You have to record your answers with a web-cam.  Multiple takes are allowed -- in theory as many as it requires to get it right -- but you can't stage your videos by recording them elsewhere and then uploading them.  A certain degree of spontaneity is not only required but even seems appropriate, or better yet befitting to this type of interaction.  It's strange but enjoyable to think a bit and then work out answers to the questions that get asked.

That's a key aspect to this medium -- questions and answers.  One only gets to video answers to questions that get asked so without incisive, well-worded questions -- the questions act as tags for the answers -- the medium is not likely to be of much use to potential viewers and contributor, and will fail to gain the critical mass and momentum needed in cyberspace.

I am just starting to envision uses to which we philosophers might put this medium.  I'll just mention two:

If the philosopher answering is personable enough, works out (or just by knack quips) witty answers, and is diligent in getting to questions, this could provide an excellent forum both for popularizing philosophy and for stamping interactions with enough of a personal touch to bring people young and old to philosophy, or at least to some topics (you'd have to be extremely charismatic or inventive to make some topics in contemporary analytic philosophy anything other than deadly dull).

This could also be an excellent medium for fostering interdisciplinary discussion, debate, collaboration. . .  That aspect I admittedly have to devote a lot more thought to, and I'll defer that for the time being so that I can eventually get to the CLA website work I'm supposed to be working on.

One last point, not so much a complaint as an expression of the hope that the designers of VYou will expand and modify it:  You get to list your interests and specialties, but philosophy is not among them.  You have to stretch a bit to find categories that fit you.  In my case, Religion, Literature and . . . .  Motivational Speaking.