Blogs and online diaries should be part of school curriculum, says thinktank
When Alex Day started keeping a video diary on YouTube, he wasn't sure how it would turn out. The teenager, from Hornchurch in Essex, admits that he was just looking for some frank feedback on his funny stories and songs.
"I was making a video podcast to entertain family and friends - just a little comedy series," he said. Eighteen months on, 19-year-old Day, known by his nickname Nerimon, boasts more than 30,000 subscribers and is one of Britain's most popular YouTubers.
Armed with cheap video cameras and the internet, a generation of youngsters are growing up very publicly with online videos - and being failed by adults who are not paying proper attention to this new medium.
That claim is made in a research paper published today by the thinktank Demos. The study, Video Republic, examines the rise of the YouTube generation and considers how their enthusiasm and skills can be encouraged.
"It's now as normal for teenagers to write a blog as it is to write a diary - that's a massive shift," said Celia Hannon, a researcher with Demos and the lead author of the report.
"Youngsters are working out their relationship to the outside world and forging an identity."
The report makes recommendations to help adults cope with the changing online environment, and calls particularly on schools to help youngsters understand the long-term implications of living their lives in a semi-public way.
"Schools, universities and businesses should prepare young people for an era where CVs may well be obsolete, enabling them to manage their online reputation," says the report. "This generation of young people are guineapigs ... we need an educational response that extends beyond the focus of safety, towards broader questions of privacy and intellectual property."
It also suggests that creating video blogs and online diaries should be part of the school curriculum, used by schools in the same way that they organise museum trips or extra art classes.
Statistics show that the influence of online video is growing. Ten hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute of the day, and not all of it is karate-kicking chimps and dogs on skateboards. Figures from earlier this year suggest Britons are watching more than 3.6bn videos online each month - a rise of 56% from last year. YouTube, which is owned by internet giant Google, dominates the market with 20 million viewers in Britain, while the BBC trails a distant second with fewer than 6.5 million online viewers.
Mainstream broadcasters are recognising the shift in consumption: the American cable broadcaster HBO recently launched a new show, Hooking Up, featuring a swath of popular YouTube stars. Although many web surfers have scoffed at what they see as a cynical attempt to cash in, the move exemplifies how the adult world is trying to reach out to video-friendly youth.
The report also says that politicians can use online video as a way to engage with youngsters, who can sometimes be seen as apathetic and unreachable. But Hannon said such a strategy would only succeed if they were prepared to approach the internet on its own terms.
"The government is pouring vast amounts of money into this, because they feel young people should be making themselves heard," she said. "But people can see through it - bloggers say it feels contrived."
Instead, she offered the example of the US presidential candidate Barack Obama, who has seen intense interest from young voters after he encouraged them to exercise their creative urges online, instead of simply dictating his ideas to them. "Obama is the first 'YouTube politician' because he gets that you can't control it. His campaign team get that it's about the enthusiasm."
For Alex Day, there are no plans to give up any time soon. "Thirty thousand, one hundred people watch me now and it'd be very unfair of me to suddenly stop and say 'just go watch someone else'," he said. "It's a lot of people so I'll always feel a commitment to putting out things they'll enjoy, in some form or another."