Book Review: 'Streampunks' by Robert Kyncl with Maany Peyvan
How and why “attention is the currency of the digital age”
Written by Robert Kyncl with Maany Peyvan, this book provides an authoritative examination of the increasingly larger role that YouTube plays in the contemporary world. As its chief business officer, his job is go help bring information and entertainment to more than a billion people around the world, “including many in countries whose governments try to limit that access. And rather than offer a glimpse of the world, YouTube holds up a mirror to the entire human experience, reflecting all of our joys, all of our struggles, all of our news, and all of our history.”
Last week, for example, I signed into YouTube and again watched several of my favorite videos: A segment from one of the Kukla, Fran, and Ollie shows that involves the promotion of homemade lemonade; Mike Nichols and Elaine May doing their “cheap” funeral routine on the Tonight Show with Jack Paar; Edward R. Murrow’s interview of Robert Oppenheimer on CNS’s See It Now: A 60 Minutes segment featuring Ed Bradley, Jonathan Winters, and Robin Williams; a film in which West Highland Terriers (Westies) play hide-and-seek; Steve Jobs’s commencement speech at Stanford; and a program by Zac George during which he explains how to train a puppy by using a Kong (it helps my wife and me to train our new Westie, Oliver). YouTube offers thousands of “windows” to all manner of human experiences as far back to what can be seen in the oldest remaining videos.
I agree with Kyncl. If attention really is the currency of the digital age, “every company should be after the biggest source of people’s attention: watching video. Watching video is the number one way human beings spend their free time. The average American spends more than five hours a day watching something on a screen. There are only two things we spend more time doing: working and sleeping.”
These are among the subjects and issues of greatest interest and value to me, also shared to suggest the scope of Kyncl’s coverage:
o A thorough orientation to “a new class of creators” o An explanation of why shelf space “is the key to understanding how the media industry works today” o A discussion of who the Brooks Brothers (Hank and John) are and what their significance is insofar as the importance of online community building is concerned o The relevance of authenticity to the changing nature of “celebrity” o The relevance of Lilly Singh, Mr. Bean, and K-Pop to “the global melting pot” o The unique importance of satire, representation, and bias to online video o An explanation of the “deep appeal of narrow niches” o An explanation of why today’s “stars” have to give 110 percent to their participation in a 24/7, VUCA world o How to obtain funding in the digital world (i.e. how to monetize content) o The nature and extent of the “New Business of the News Business” o The meaning and significance of the fact that Casey Neistat “is making great ads again” o Lessons to be learned from Neistat “who knows more about partnering successfully with brands” than anyone else does o Unlike what would have been Thomas Carlyle’s approach, Kyncl examines “the decline and rise of the music industry”
These are among his concluding thoughts: “Video used to be the highest-walled garden in entertainment; it was the most expensive and most difficult medium to penetrate. But the global distribution of free platforms such as YouTube, combined with the ubiquity of smartphones, has turned it into a free market, where nearly anyone can throw his or hat into the ring. Some people who witness that phenomenon see only a fame-obsessed culture full of people who just want attention. But those critics see only an unflattering reflection of a far more meaningful picture.”
Those critics also have not read this book, Experienced YouTube, or checked out the Internet Creators Guild and VidCon, a multi-genre online video conference, held annually in Southern California since 2010. They would be well-advised to consider this prediction by Alvin Toffler in Future Shock (1984): “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
Robert Kyncl and YouTube seem to be doing everything they can to reduce that illiteracy, if not eliminate it altogether. Bravo!
Editor's note: This review was written by Robert Morris and has been published with his permission.Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.