While ruminating on the relationship between content and containers, my mind kept returning to YouTube. In this week’s readings, Whitney Ann Trettien (2013) writes about “artifacts that seem to skirt the peripheries of the average user’s experience in fact occupy a central position within the digital marketplace, exposing the processes of mediation and communication circuits upon which network capitalism depends.” One place where the invisible infrastructure of network capitalism is apparent is the tracked search.
As other YouTubers will attest, the place of advertisements on the site has changed over time. Once one video ends, another will begin almost immediately, creating a continuous play list. In between these videos, advertisements will occasionally play. Normally I do not pay much attention to advertising on the internet, ads are after all commonplace; however, around the time I was planning my wedding, the ads were suddenly all wedding-themed. This shift in content was jarring, and made YouTube’s ability to track my searches obvious.
While I am aware my searches are being tracked on most sites, this sudden shift in ad content, so clearly linked to changes in my recent searching activity, made the surveillance visible. It was a reminder that the continuous flow of content available on YouTube is determined by my search habits and the site’s ability to monitor what I watch. For a moment the infrastructure of logarithms and code designed to make a profit at my expense was obvious.
Trettien, Whitney Anne. “A Deep History of Electronic Textuality: the Case of English Reprints of John Milton’s Areopagitica.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 7, no. 1 (2013).