Archive for March 17, 2015

The YouTube Effect

YouTube

Whenever I have a DIY or computer problem I look for a YouTube video on the topic. It is much better than a written ‘how to’ guide as you can see how something is done, step by step.

Similarly when I am thinking about visiting a place, staying at a hotel or even hiring an entertainer for my child’s birthday party I look first for a YouTube video showing me the place or person in question. The video camera lies in the sense it frames an event, and that it is edited but it gives me vital hints about a place. YouTube doesn’t make a lot of money for Google because it is a massive repository of information. It has been described as ‘the attic of the internet’.

If you do a YouTube search of Koh Phangan you get a distorted view of the Thai island. Out of the 10 non-sponsored clips listed on the front page there are two clips about the Full Moon Party; there is one clip of street food in Thongsala; there is one clip of Haad Rin; there is ‘3 months in 3 minutes’ that shows random clips of Bangkok and the island not giving any captions naming places; there is a promo for diving; and 4 videos showing various beaches on the island. The more you look through videos the more you see it is dominated by young people on the beach splashing, riding bikes and getting out of their faces at a party.

The videos misrepresent what Koh Phangan is, as well as define the island in the popular imagination. Yes, Koh Phangan is a backpacker destination. Yes many people visiting the island are young and in swim wear and covered in tattoos and yes the FMP, Baan Tai and the white sand beaches are massive selling points for the island; but Koh Phangan is so much more.

90% of the Koh Phangan is untouched jungle. The main economic activities (other than tourism) are coconut cultivation and fishing. These are absent from the YouTube mosaic of the island. There is a documentary about drug culture in Thailand, but not enough about the history of the island; about the dangers of the Baan Tai and Haad Rin parties. There are interviews with DJs and restauranteurs but not from indigenous Thai people. Koh Phanganers don’t have a voice on YouTube. They have environmental, educational and economic concerns that are not being heard through the popular forum.

This is part of the commercialisation and superficiality of internet searches using Google. If you type in the name of any place you get a list of hotel sites and booking engines such as hotel.com. The Wikipedia article that is usually there in the top 10 listings stands out for being the exception. Do people want to know about a place or do they just want to read reviews and book a hotel room?

Perhaps we should consign YouTube to the attic and don’t bother going back to the space under the roof. The same might be said of Google search. It is a free service that uses data of people’s search habits to offer targeted ads to commercial entities. These entities then take over 50% of the first page of results. It is self-serving; not descriptive.

Koh Phangan is so much more than you will find on the internet. Go there without booking in advance, without being obsessed about attending a FMP, without following the crowds, without adding to the stereotypes that are obscuring the beauty of the place.