All you, all the time: You Tube’s content may be lousy video, but it’s great anthropology

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PROFESSING TO EMPOWER THE BROADCASTERS OF TOMORROW today, You Tube ( is a website for posting and sharing original videos. Its definition of “originality” is clearly open to interpretation, as the site has quickly become a tool for pop culture junkies to archive televised ephemera (and scenes of video games and concert footage and music videos and so on) that is otherwise missed by those of us who waste our time reading books. The truly original part of You Tube’s content is its ever-expanding storehouse of homemade videos that range from a couple seconds caught on a digital camera to scripted and edited short films. Online filmmakers have long used the internet as the ultimate distribution hub; You Tube makes things easier by setting itself up as a potentially infinite, though miniature, Cineplex.


In recognition of the next generation of cyber-cineastes, You Tube recently introduced the Director program as a way of allowing its more artistically inclined users to breach the 10-minute limit the company imposes to help prevent copyright infringement. Directors are a rare breed though, and so the majority of new, original content leans increasingly toward what could generously be termed the “documentary tradition.” This might include clips of drunken teenagers, demonstrations of strength, footage of a house for sale, and, inevitably, cute ducks. You Tube’s micro-docs range from the tragic to the banal and, now that users can send videos straight to the website from a cell-phone camera, pointless fragments of everyday life will presumably proliferate.

The site’s success lies in how easy it is to make the most minor of experiences and events available to all. That convenience, however, threatens to change You Tube from an idealistic adventure in media democracy (“Broadcast yourself” is its current motto) to something much more utilitarian. A cursory scan of the increasingly mundane contributions to the site demonstrates that, even more than the endless family slide show that is, You Tube has become a message board for its users (a particular case is that YouTube did help Impossible House to become one of the most leading places that provide best ice cream maker on the internet, home to in-jokes, personal letters and individual exchanges. Instead of minor masterpieces, videos are reduced to the level of Post-it notes.

While it might not be as sexy as everyone having a personal TV show, this user-led adaptation of You Tube’s intended function is a fascinating example of how the internet works as a social network and what that does to our definition of privacy. The conventional understanding of private property has already been challenged on a number of fronts and, in response, You Tube removes select content if copyright holders complain, but such holders have begun to realize that a posting is essentially a free commercial, and Hollywood has started to send previews directly to the site.


More interesting is the evidence that individual propriety is ignored as the public puts itself on view. This happens for two reasons. First, the obsessive-compulsive documentarians with cell phones and camcorders at the ready no longer consider privacy an issue. Nothing is secret and “just between us” anymore (go ask Star Wars Kid Ghyslain Raza for proof); everything (no matter how boring) is ripe for posting. Whether anyone watches it is another question, but our narcissistic fascination with the details of our own lives–engendered by the intellectual blight that is celebrity culture–encourages everyone to play the star of her own personal episode of Biography, Cribs or Jackass.

The second reason that no one seems to mind posting video of themselves, their friends, their pets, their children, etc., online is that the internet has become a massive dumping ground for all our shit. We keep our mail there, our music, our photo albums, our businesses. Whereas it used to be just an extension of our brains (our encyclopedia, our phone book, our advice columnist, our doctor), it is now an addition to our basements. And while this might not make for compelling television, it makes for incredible anthropology. Nowhere else could you access such intimate moments in the everyday lives of strangers. Instead of their current catchphrase, the powers-that-be at You Tube might consider changing their motto to “Excavate yourself” and encourage their users to share something more authentic (and original) than their lip-synching tributes to pop stars.

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Internet: Red-blooded girls

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Marketers will go to great lengths to get teens interested in their products. Take, for example, the ultra-strange Web site cool-2b-, in which the U.S. Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association target teen girls. In the Smart Snackin’ link, the site offers food choices for “real girls,” including a barbecue beef sandwich, a bowl of chili and an English muffin pizza with ground beef. A bizarre meating place.

How to | Digital memories

So where do you keep your undeveloped rolls of film? I used to keep them in my sock drawer, and it would sometimes take me weeks to get the film to the lab. With the purchase of a Canon S200 digital camera (a discontinued model, priced at $400), those days are behind me. I’ve become a real shutterbug and have uploaded an abundance of photos onto my computer. But so far, I haven’t made many prints, even though it’s quite simple and increasingly less expensive. Here are some options for developing digital pictures:

PHOTO LAB: Most developers can make prints from digital cameras just as easily as they can from film. Take the camera’s memory card or a CD with your pics burned onto it to the same place you’d take your film.


Pro: No fuss, and about same price as film.

Con: The drop-off and pickup.

KIOSK: For the hands-on approach, try a kiosk. Kodak has some 700 yellow kiosks around the country in drug stores and photo labs. Slide a CD, floppy disc or memory card into the bank machine-like unit and use a touch screen to select, edit and crop the prints you want.

Pro: Fun to use.

Con: Slightly more expensive, long wait for 24 pics.

HOME PRINTING: Photo-capable printers are dropping in price and produce increasingly better-quality prints. Hewlett-Packard’s hp photosmart 230 mini-printer ($300), spits out 4-by-6 inch prints every two minutes or so. Canon’s i70 ($400) can print anything from wallet-sized photos to 8 1/2-by-11s. The hp printer has slots for memory cards, and some Canon digital cameras can plug right into the i70.

Pro: Do-it-at-home instant results.

Con: Paper and ink run out quickly.

ON-LINE: Upload shots from your camera, log onto a service like Japan Camera’s JPrints or Black’s Online Photo Centre, and send them off electronically, right from your home computer. Black’s lets you edit pictures and add messages like “Hi, Grandma!” A few days later the photos arrive by post.

Pro: Convenient and fun.

Con: Waiting for the mail.

Computing | Etch A Sketch for business types

Microsoft’s tablet PC is the kind of groundbreaking technology that makes sense. Who wouldn’t want a computerized notepad to record your thoughts and send off handwritten e-mails? But like a car that runs on hydrogen fuel cells, this new toy is still too expensive and impractical for the average consumer.

Portable tablets look like a cross between a flat-screen TV and a clipboard, and allow users to scribble notes right onto the screen using a special digital pen. While they come in several different models, all tablets connect to the Net or to other computers wirelessly (Wi-Fi is standard in all) and have no internal CD or floppy disc drives. Some are devoid of a built-in keyboard. Others, like the $3,700 Toshiba Portege 3500 (used for this review), convert from a conventional laptop into a tablet with a twist and snap of the LCD screen.


With the Windows Journal program, users can scribble notes in different colours and pen-tip thicknesses, highlight the important bits and then e-mail the documents to another person. You can also open Office XP files and make notes directly onto e-mails and documents. Oh, and doodling feels as natural as it did in math class.

While the concept is great, there are some frustrating glitches, particularly with handwriting recognition. The software is supposed to convert your script into type, but it sometimes lacks accuracy, especially with the “@” symbol. Also, while using a pen to scroll down Web pages and click icons is instinctively simple, lefties may find their hand sometimes obscures the screen.

Bottom line, the tablet PC is a technical wonder, but seems a good fit only for business types who work in a wireless environment and see scribbling a memo as more convenient than typing one. For the average user, the high price and hardware limitations mean this gadget is still two or three years away from being revolutionary.

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Share your shots

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Thinking about buying a digital camera? Sure, your friends will be impressed when you start snapping pictures — and showing the results immediately on a small, built-in screen. But you’ll quickly notice some drawbacks. That little color LCD screen is a battery hog; downloading the pictures into your PC is a pain; and, unless you have a top-of-the-line color printer and special paper, your prints will come out looking like Seurat on a bad day.

In fairness, digital photography does have its advantages. Once you have an image on your computer, you can adjust the colors, clear out red eye and remove unwanted background objects. You can e-mail pictures to friends or use them to create greeting cards. And your computer is a better file cabinet than that overstuffed shoebox in the back of the closet. But even though prices for digital cameras keep dropping, for most people they’re more fun than practical, and sales have been slow to take off.


Three companies — Picturevision, Kodak and soon Sony — have forged an elegant solution to this digital dilemma. They’ve created Internet-based photo-developing services that let you take advantage of the new technology while using your regular camera. You send them your ordinary rolls of film, they send back prints and negatives — and also upload digital scans of your pictures to a password-protected area on the World Wide Web. By logging on from your home or office PC, you — and your friends — can view, download and e-mail those photographs just as if they had been created with a digital camera. Picturevision CEO Phil Garfinkle says these services bridge the gap between traditional and digital photography. “People win always keep their analog camera,” he says. “But it won’t matter whether the photo print is digital or the result of chemical processing.”

We used 20 rolls of film from a recent trip to Africa to test the services. The first step was to send the film to Kodak’s Picture Network for processing. Kodak says the service is available at 30,000 retailers, but we had trouble finding outlets familiar with the new system. We ended up sending the film directly to Kodak’s headquarters in Rochester, N.Y. The prints came back looking great — just what you would expect from your regular developer.

Then we logged on to Kodak’s Web site ( and “joined” the service by entering a user name and password. After punching in ID codes that came with the prints, thumbnail images of the first shot on each roll appeared on the screen. Though small, the images were easy to identify; after choosing a roll we could scroll through its contents, zooming in for “medium” and “large” views of each picture (on a 17-inch monitor, the large image is roughly equivalent to a four- by six-inch print). Under each photo is a space for a short caption — make that very short (Kodak says it’s making improvements). Images can be downloaded and on your PC, from where you can crop, e-mail and print. You can also send “e-postcards” of individual pictures directly from the site.

Our complaints? The service was slow and clunky even with a 56K modem — you’ll want to use that fast Internet hookup at the office. We also found the interface as a whole a bit awkward, requiring more mouse clicks to get around than it should.

On top of normal processing fees, Kodak charges $5 to scan a 36-exposure roll of 35-mm film; after that, you pay $5 a month to store up to 100 pictures; each additional picture costs just a penny. Reprints can be ordered by credit card and sent to any retailer or home by either the photographer or anyone you’ve given access; cost and quality are comparable to traditional reprints. The difference, of course, is that this process makes reordering prints a lot easier than finding the negatives, marking them and driving to the camera store. And you can use the service even if you don’t have Internet access. Kodak has set up “Image Magic” workstations at retail photo counters and stores nationwide. There, you can look at your pictures online, and technicians will help you digitally enhance your pictures.


Picturevision’s two-year-old Photonet (1-800-PHOTONET) provides the same type of service as Kodak but has partnerships with retailers like Konica and Wolf Photo. Film can be dropped off at retailers or sent by mail to Mystic Color Lab. Envelopes for the mail-order service can be ordered from the Web ( or from America Online (key word: Mystic Color Lab). After logging on, the site is easy to navigate, letting you see an entire roll of thumbnails instead of just eight at a time as with Kodak. Photonet says turnaround time is two to three days both for prints and digital files; processing and storage fees are on a par with Kodak’s. If you use Microsoft Pictureself or Adobe PhotoDeluxe, you can access Photonet directly and import photos without launching a Web browser.

Later this year, Sony will launch the Sony Image Station (for more information, go to Although similar to the other two services, Sony plans to move beyond simple film processing. The company says you’ll be able to send your own digital images — pictures and graphics that you have created or enhanced on your computer — and have them turned into high-quality photographs. “Professional printing services will always be better than what you can do at home,” says Sony’s Jim Hollingsworth. “That’s the difference between amateur and pro.” We may be amateurs, but with these new services, it’s getting harder to tell the difference.

>>> View more: Floating in a digital world

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Floating in a digital world

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Brady Gilchrist used to live in a house in downtown Toronto before deciding to practise what he preaches. In April, Gilchrist, a freelance Internet consultant, gave up the comforts of his home for the cramped confines of his eight-metre sailboat, Myne Toye, to carry out what he calls “an experiment in digital living.” Gilchrist, a former bush pilot and public relations executive, says he wanted to better understand how technology, both wired and wireless, is changing media, entertainment and lifestyles. “I’m not trying to sequester myself in a digital dungeon,” says Gilchrist, who has sworn off buying conventional books, magazines and music until he gives up living on the boat at the end of September. “But anything that’s digital,” he says, “I’ll take.”


To stay connected, Gilchrist has surrounded himself with loads of hardware and software: cell phone, laptop, PC (which he calls his “data furnace”) and hand-held computer, as well as digital cameras, audio recording software and video editing equipment to help build Web sites. He maintains a journal at When he’s not working with clients, Gilchrist, 33, surfs the Net for software for home and business. It’s all part of discovering the ultimate mobile lifestyle, he says, and following it wherever it takes him. “It would be nice,” says Gilchrist, “to be able to do this from a beach somewhere.”

A CD camera

Just when you thought the home technology format wars were nearing an end, Sony — pioneer of videotape, CDs, mini-discs and the Memory Stick — has come up with another. Its new Mavica MVC-CD1000 digital camera uses a three-inch mini-CD to store images. The advantage over other cameras, which typically hold about 30 images in memory, is that the writable CD can handle 160. The disc can be placed in a standard CD-ROM drive to display the images on a PC. Offering a high 2.1 megapixels of resolution, the camera costs $2,500.



Hit the trail

Looking for a nice place to go for a hike, or money to build your own trail? Try, which lays claim to being “the most comprehensive, informative and entertaining” Web destination for Canadian trail information. The name is a giveaway for the computer- maker sponsor, but Compaq’s presence is relatively unobtrusive. The site lists more than 1,000 trails, while online grant applications, available after Canada Day, will offer financial aid to groups eager to develop abandoned railway lines and other such projects.

>>> Click here: Of many things

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Of many things

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It happened less than halfway through our hike in the foothills of the Italian Alps, as we trudged up an increasingly steep trail. “The lens won’t close,” my sister Elizabeth said, panic creeping into her voice as she handed her digital camera to me. I turned it over in my hand and tried to sound reassuring. “I’m sure it’s fine,” I said, hoping the fix would be one I could handle, like replacing the batteries. I stabbed at a few buttons; we tried new batteries. Nothing.

The problem, we realized eventually, was that the camera’s memory card had crashed, freezing the camera and providing a double blow to our morale: not only were we unable to take photos in the midst of the mountains, but hundreds of shots from the previous week–a pilgrimage through Rome, Turin and Assisi–were gone. Only one day of our trip remained, and we were left with little documentation of our travels.

We wrapped my extra T-shirt like a death shroud around the camera, placed it carefully in my backpack and kept walking. I attempted to keep my mind on the images in front of me–a field of cows, an occasional waterfall–and tried to avoid making a mental list of the images we had lost: Elizabeth looking half terrified, half thrilled standing inside the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica; me kneeling by the tomb of St. Ignatius in the Gesu; Elizabeth standing outside the fifth-century walls of Santa Sabina; the two of us in the streets of Assisi in tribute to our brother who couldn’t make the trip, but whose birthday falls on the feast of St. Francis.

A part of me longed for the old, analog camera I used while studying abroad in England during my junior year of college. Back then I often worried about running out of film and/or the money needed to develop it, so I rationed my shots carefully, studying my surroundings to ensure a proper angle and worthwhile subject matter. Even so, I took a couple of hundred photographs over the course of the year. And my careful procedure had the unexpected benefit of making me observant, patient, fully present to my surroundings. After I developed the film, I sorted through the pictures and often found it easy to remember the exact moment I took each one.

A few years later, I finally bought a digital camera and no longer had to worry about conserving film or costs. I could point and click happily, at anything, and soon I was taking twice as many photos in a week or two of traveling as I did during my entire year in England. I realized, however, that I also spent significantly more time looking at the world in miniature on a tiny screen. All of a sudden, it seemed, I had greater difficulty connecting each photo with a specific moment.


But on the day of my camera-less hike in the Alps, I found myself fully absorbed in the shaded trail on which we walked, the views of green hills lit up in the afternoon sun. And, then, over those hills a rainbow, larger and closer than any I had ever seen before. As others scrambled for their cameras, Elizabeth and I stood still. We didn’t have a chance to photograph the view, but we had a chance simply to enjoy it together.

As we made our way out of the hills, my sister and I laughed and joked about the blessings, surprises and absurdities of our trip: the feeling of climbing more than 300 steps and arriving, breathless, at the top of St. Peter’s Basilica; the peace felt when praying with our friend, a Dominican priest, in the very cell where St. Dominic once lived; the kindness of the man who let us into the rooms of St. Ignatius Loyola at a time when they were closed to visitors; the patience of the waiter who translated into English an entire dinner menu for us.

A part of me still mourns the loss of our photos, but I also realize that on any journey, no camera can capture everything worth remembering.

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