Thanks for Watching: An Anthropological Study of Video Sharing on YouTube

YouTube hosts one billion visitors monthly and sees more than 400 hours of video uploaded every minute. In Thanks for Watching, Patricia G. Lange offers an anthropological perspective on this heavily mediated social environment by analyzing videos and the emotions that motivate sharing them. She demonstrates how core concepts from anthropology—participant-observation, reciprocity, and community—apply to sociality on YouTube. Lange’s book reconceptualizes and updates these concepts for video-sharing cultures.

Lange draws on 152 interviews with YouTube participants at gatherings throughout the United States, content analyses of more than 300 videos, observations of interactions on and off the site, and participant-observation. She documents how the introduction of monetization options impacted perceived opportunities for open sharing and creative exploration of personal and social messages. Lange’s book provides new insight into patterns of digital migration, YouTube’s influence on off-site interactions, and the emotional impact of losing control over images. The book also debunks traditional myths about online interaction, such as the supposed online/offline binary, the notion that anonymity always degrades public discourse, and the popular characterization of online participants as over-sharing narcissists.

YouTubers’ experiences illustrate fascinating hybrid forms of contemporary sociality that are neither purely mediated nor sufficient when conducted only in person. Combining intensive ethnography, analysis of video artifacts, and Lange’s personal vlogging experiences, the book explores how YouTubers are creating a posthuman collective characterized by interaction, support, and controversy. In analyzing the tensions between YouTubers’ idealistic goals of sociality and the site’s need for monetization, Thanks for Watching makes crucial contributions to cultural anthropology, digital ethnography, science and technology studies, new media studies, communication, interaction design, and posthumanism.

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