Tag Archives: YouTube

Knowing Me, Knowing YouTube: Are Video Algorithms Silently Recasting Us?

In recent years, it has become almost passé – and all-too-easy – to blame the ever-encroaching behemoths of social media for a whole host of problems. Because of the continued weight given to matters of state, scrutiny of these corporations has overwhelmingly focused on their alleged capacity to engender electoral upsets and remove entrenched power elites – often at the cost of installing a yet more freakish, less predictable iteration of the departing political class.

However, this relentless focus on a single apparent consequence of mass social media adoption has effectively obviated discussion of considerably more profound impacts that these historically new technologies are having on both society and the individual; in this context, the YouTube algorithms which suggest new video clips to the end user based on previously-viewed content merit serious attention.

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, video has assumed a primacy within the media sector such that it is in an unparalleled position to shape human consciousness. Digital television, the evergreen DVD format and streaming services together now dominate how we perceive the world beyond our immediate surroundings. But just a single streaming website – YouTube, which Google acquired back in November 2006 – can claim to be making the next leap: guiding us, whether consciously or otherwise, into new and deeply personal cultural realms.

Uniquely amongst video content portals, YouTube possesses a truly enormous and phenomenally diverse back catalogue of televisual fragments – and a truly massive community which is continually uploading content, fusty and fresh, to its servers.

On a basic level, what this means is that only YouTube has the ability to continually present hyper-customised video recommendations to its users. This may sound borderline innocuous. But the consequences of this go far beyond the conventional platitudes of monetisation and engagement (although these are certainly encompassed by its emerging business model). Much more interesting is the fact that YouTube can effectively curate the cultural preferences and overall evolution of nothing less than the individual citizen – and maybe even the individual soul, particularly if recommended videos pertain to spirituality – to a remarkable degree.

Should this worry us? This is enormously difficult to state with any certainty, partly because no two users will experience YouTube in quite the same way. Additionally, the relevant algorithms are still quite clunky and easy to game – though whether they are broadly perceived as such is another matter entirely. But at the very least, this is a debate that should enjoy much greater prominence, both in regulatory circles and far beyond.

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Filed under Culture, Psychology, Spirituality, Technology

Why Asians (Still) Can’t Play Football: the US$45tn Rhetorical Question

As YouTube attains a certain level of commercial maturity, we at Mediolana continue to be impressed by the output from the team at COPA90, one of the very few independent channels to successfully bridge the gap between basement video creation and recycled ‘legacy’ media clips. One of their most recent (and perhaps controversial) offerings is well worth under fifteen minutes of any football fan’s time.

In Why Do British Asians Never Make It Pro?, host Adam McKola poses one of the more discomfiting socio-cultural questions of our time: how it is possible that in 2019, there are not enough professional footballers of British Asian ethnic origin in the first four levels of the English soccer pyramid to even come close to filling a single match day squad?

A particular strength of this piece is that it correctly underlines the inadequacies of conventional theories – parental preferences, cultural proclivities, middle-class economic aspirations – which seek to explain this stark lacuna. Ultimately, there is no shortage of football-mad, working-class people of Asian heritage in the United Kingdom; ceteris paribus, it defies all rational expectations that there has not been a single ‘breakout’ player emerge from a broadly-defined community numbered in its millions.

However, at the end of McKola’s mini-documentary, our Creative Director & CSO was left slightly unfulfilled when it came to both the historical treatment of this issue and prescriptions for a remedy.

The question of why British Asians have enjoyed only the most marginal of successes in the country which codified the modern form of the beautiful game was being asked by anti-racism campaigners at least as far back as twenty years ago, when it became clear that the coming of age of second-generation UK Asians was not being accompanied by their acceptance into what is arguably the nation’s single most important cultural experience; the fact that only the slightest of progress has been registered in all this time evinces just how stubbornly positive change is being resisted.

As uncomfortable as it is to articulate, the only plausible explanation for this dynamic is the existence of a form of structural discrimination which is so profound that it shapes interactions on a much more powerful level than most of us would like to admit. The legacy of colonialism – which involved the heisting of at least US$45tn from the Indian subcontinent, surely one of the greatest acts of de-development in history, recorded or otherwise – means that in England, pseudo-nationalist demagogues and well-meaning liberals alike are curiously united in regarding British Asians, in this particular context and perhaps others, as essentially invisible; additionally, a media which simultaneously portrays South Asian males as night-time economy predators and sexual sub-incels is doing nothing to promote an objective perception of their attributes, sporting or otherwise.

Once this truth has been accepted and internalised, the path forward for the British Asian soccer stars of the future is clear: they must seek their fortunes in systems which have actually demonstrated that they do value players of South Asian descent equally. Holland, Norway and France have all recognised footballers of subcontinental origin with caps at full international level; this fact alone should be enough to end the collective British Asian fixation on a Premier League which evidently has little place for their type.

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Musical Footnotes: Pro Evolution Soccer and Artistic Validation

With the Pro Evolution Soccer (‘PES’) series having struggled for so long – and in all plausibility, so needlessly, given the preexisting code – to regain its exhilarating essence, we at Mediolana have recently been reflecting on the Konami Digital Entertainment franchise at its imperious best: the years from 2003 to 2006 which gave the world what are still probably the greatest iterations of computer soccer ever created.

The strengths of Pro Evolution Soccer editions 3 to 6 inclusive were many, but beyond the oft-mentioned game dynamics and stunning replication of individual footballers’ playing styles, the sheer attention to detail and devotion to quality oozed from these products’ every pore. And while later versions simply did not contain the core of what made PES raise the pulse of every soccer devotee who ever had the privilege of experiencing it, certain more peripheral elements still contained traces of glories past.

One of these elements in particular – the credits music which would accompany PES’ long and illustrious list of contributors, headed up by no less a figure than fabled producer Shingo ‘Seabass’ Takatsuka – has long fascinated us, and set us thinking about how some artistic works end up being perceived as great works while yet others languish in obscurity.

The credits music for Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 is perfect illustration of this dynamic. A deeply melancholy and contemplative piece tinged with liberating aggression, it is built around a group of ten recurring notes of relative complexity. (Comparisons with the opening notes of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 may prima facie appear far-fetched, but the parallels are nevertheless discernible.)

And yet the deeper paradox of this profoundly moving composition is that it is buried in an optional mini-movie within a video game which is the best part of a decade old. Someone has had the vision to upload this short film to YouTube, where it has amassed barely 1,000 views and will likely continue to exist as an unloved digital museum exhibit.

It is of course widely recognised – at least in some circles – that human systems often function in a highly imperfect manner; the world of culture is certainly no exception to this rule, and at best can be said to work as a semi-meritocracy. However, the chasm between the beauty of PES’ credits compositions and their frankly non-existent critical reception places even this characterisation under suspicion, and leads one to wonder how many more brilliant musical works are destined to remain – to all intents and purposes – anonymous.

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Painting the Continent Red: #Zlatan the Younger Helps Tokyo Team Rock Asia!

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The #linguamarina Question: Should International Students Fear Trump’s Presidency?

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We at Mediolana take a special interest in the intersection between technology and education, and for a long time we have been mystified at the sheer paucity of compelling highered commentators who utilise social media skilfully. However, this chasm is beginning to be filled, and the excellent linguamarina brand – headed up by a Russia-born, Germany-educated and America-resident entrepreneur named, appropriately, Marina Mogliko – is rapidly becoming one of our favourites. In particular, linguamarina’s YouTube videos are an excellent source of information and discussion points from a unique-but-relatable perspective.

In a recent video (PROTESTS IN THE USA, WHAT TO EXPECT FROM TRUMP, IMMIGRATION, 11th November 2016), Marina asks a question which – given both the USA’s status as the world’s largest higher education system and the place that the greatest number of international students call home – should be given far higher prominence than it has enjoyed to date: will Donald Trump make good on his more extreme campaign promises of mass deportations and blanket entry bans – pledges which could theoretically derail or obviate thousands of university careers?

The simple answer is that no one really knows for sure – especially given that the Trump presidency is not scheduled to begin until 20th January 2017 – but its likelihood depends on which one of three broad scenarios materialises:

  1. Business As Usual. If – as Marina strongly suggests – Trump’s campaign rhetoric against Mexicans and Muslims was in fact just clever if ethically dubious marketing, then so long as he can deliver badly-needed prosperity to his core and frankly desperate constituents, repressive laws are unlikely to be enacted and international students can rest assured that the United States of America remains a viable HE destination.
  2. Business As Unusual. While both other branches of the US government have Republican Party majorities, the GOP is still smarting from a brutal civil war in which virtually every party luminary all but disowned Trump. Accordingly, these rivals may seek to block his centrepiece legislation on infrastructure – which would possibly negatively impact his popularity, and increase the probability of Trump resorting to the xenophobia which helped define his election win.
  3. Business As Madness. In the case of some seriously brown gloop hitting the fan – mass shootings, terrorist ‘events’ or a banking crisis – Trump may feel pressure to be seen to be ‘protecting the interests of ordinary Americans’, and all bets could then be off. The problem with using overtly negative tropes so successfully is that they then have the potential to take on a life of their own – and, as usual, innocent people will end up getting caught in the crossfire.

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Russia’s Unified State Exam: Ripe for Reform?

An intriguing piece recently published in the International New York Times (Dagestan, a Leader in ‘Education Tourism’, 2nd February 2014) highlighted one of the biggest problems in the educational systems of emerging markets: corruption. The article focuses on Russia, where desperate candidates for the Unified State Exam or USE – the entrance test for universities and professional colleges in the Russian Federation – are transferring to poor, rural schools where they can bribe educators and invigilators to ignore or even facilitate blatant cheating. For the princely sum of RUB3,000.00 – less than €65.00 – teachers can be persuaded to allow a student to take an exam paper out of the test venue; videos have been posted on YouTube and Russian social media site VK purporting to show students dropping test papers from classroom windows to eager co-conspirators vaunting books and mobile telephones below.

Official figures released by the Russian Federal Education and Science Supervision Service (‘Rosobrnadzor’) estimated the number of ‘exam violations’ at 1,500 for 2013 – double the 2012 number – but the scale of the problem is such that Arthur Dalgatov, Dagestan’s minister of education and science, issued an open letter in September 2013 which underlined that students should not be allowed to transfer from city schools to their rural counterparts without a specified reason.

The problems with this kind of corruption are many. Firstly, by enabling students to cheat their way into higher education institutions, it lowers the ethical and academic standards of the tertiary education system. Secondly, this eventually feeds into the broader economy and society, with negative qualitative consequences for both; and thirdly, the very credibility of the education system is internationally questioned – and perhaps found wanting.

Many Russian universities have recognised this: since 2009, more than 100 of them have requested permission to set their own entrance exams in addition to the USE. However, in a country of limited autonomy for educational institutions, less than 30 have been given the go-ahead to do so. This is a profoundly problematic situation reminiscent of those in China and India, where bribery is accepted practice at many universities – but it needs correcting. Without either tighter technocratic insulation, liberalisation of the university entrance regime or a combination of both, Russia risks creating a two-tier university system in which artificial distortions engendered by unethical practices are accepted as systemic.

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Can Florrie Rescue Pop Culture from The End of History? Article Now Posted at Mediolana.com!

Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 13.43.40Regular readers of this blog should surf to mediolana.com’s creative section where the above article on one of Europe’s most sensational musical prospects awaits!

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