Lost in YouTube

For years I ignored YouTube because I thought it was filled with cat videos and not much else. When I finally discovered its endless range of absorbing content last year, however, I posted a blog on it. But YouTube's depth of information on almost any topic is so vast that an occasional revisit is worthwhile. Video quality, then and now, ranges from very good to nearly unwatchable, but thankfully most of it is at least good enough for acceptable viewing.

Every side is represented on current affairs, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, though YouTube's tendency to "curate" information remains troubling. While news and current affairs coverage is fascinating, remember the old adage that today's news (and opinion) is only the first draft of history. For example, you'll find an almost infinite range of YouTube postings on the Ukraine war, though as in any such reporting (and opinion) you should take what you read and hear with a big helping of salt.

Disasters also fill YouTube's "pages." Last year I became hooked on documentaries about aircraft crash investigations. If you're a nervous flyer I don't recommend these, but as a former pilot (military, not commercial) I find the subject compelling. I'm amazed (and troubled) that current passenger jets are so heavily automated that a pilot with 5,000 hours on his or her resume has likely spent less than 500 of those hours flying the plane manually. On a typical 2-hour flight that's around 12 minutes and likely less! But while flying today is dramatically safer than it was at the dawn of the air transportation age, I don't look forward to a time when commercial pilots are replaced with a supercomputer and its rows of blinking lights!

I recently branched out onto YouTube videos of ship disasters. There are even more of them than of plane crashes, not surprising given that ship transport pre-dates air travel by thousands of years. In the pre-radio era, up to about 150 years ago, ships had no way to communicate in an emergency. Given the unpredictability of weather at the time, a ship crossing the Atlantic, Pacific, or even one of the Great Lakes could vanish without a trace and often did. Want to research the Titanic? Set aside a few days for viewing the YouTube Titanic sites. Want to know more about the Edmund Fitzgerald than you'll hear in the song, or the sinking of the Mary Rose in the Tudor era, or the Battle of Actium? It's all available at your fingertips.

More to the point here, for audio, video, and home theater fans, you've likely discovered that dozens of "influencers" flood YouTube with their opinions on everything from budget products to the highest of the high-end and from 2-channel audio to all levels of home theater. Most of these postings appear to be sincere, but as always it's best to check more than one opinion on any given product or subject. There are even unboxing videos, which are popular for reasons I can't imagine. But one caution on YouTube A/V reporting: some of the sites appear to be dealers, and aren't always identified as such. They may be useful, but might well have a conflict of interest as well.

As AV fans we're always looking for new music and movies to feed our systems. You won't always get the audio and/or video quality you'd prefer on YouTube, but it's still worth the search. If you find appealing content but would like to have it in better quality, you can often then find it in a more pristine form elsewhere, either via streaming or packaged media. Pop, jazz, and rock are all over the place on YouTube, but if you're into classical (or even if you're not) I strongly recommend doing a search for "Youth Orchestras." As I was researching for this blog I came across a performance of Scheherazade by a youth orchestra in Silesia, Poland. You'll find many similar entries. There's something special about both hearing and seeing dedicated young, 16-22 year-old musicians performing at a level that might challenge all but a few of the best professional orchestras. Audio alone can't convey this. If we had access to such an experience before music appreciation courses disappeared from schools, such courses might have left a more lasting impression.

It's no surprise that both movies and TV shows get thorough YouTube coverage. Science fiction alone, both past and present, offers entries that would take you hours to look through. Mostly they're only short opinion pieces or clips from shows, but occasionally you'll finds full episodes. If you're a fan of anything Star Trek, Babylon 5, Farscape, or Stargate in all of its forms, or any others, YouTube offers countless entries to rummage through.

There's only one seriously annoying glitch in YouTube viewing: the advertisements. They're short, but can pop up at any time. They're particularly annoying on music clips. The final movement of the Scheherazade mentioned above was interrupted twice by short ads that totally broke the mood. There's nothing like settling into a great piece of music only to be dropped jarringly into a plug for Jeep or an air refresher (or both)! When I first spent time on YouTube the ads were very short — just a few seconds. As my YouTube time piled up over several months, the interruptions became longer and more noxious. Could it be that YouTube is tracking and saving my searches (creepy even in today's decreasing levels of on-line privacy) and progressively making the advert interruptions both more frequent and longer. I can't blame them for making a buck with ads when the service is provided free (apart from your internet service bills), and there is an add-free YouTube Premium available at $12/month. But streaming fees, here and elsewhere, eventually start to bite.

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