I chose the title of this essay carefully. I do mean how to use YouTube for our own means, not to be used by Youtube.
This echoes some of the sentiments in an earlier essay about Recommended Notification Settings and how we have to be very careful about the goals behind the technology that we use — this is because technology is not neutral but often has goals that can be in direct opposition to our own life goals.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think YouTube is absolutely amazing, both as a free service supported with advertising and also with the Premium option, that I am quite happy to have seen launched in the last few years. This means that you can watch videos for a small amount each month without advertising. Personally, this is a great swap for me. It’s a token amount per month, and I don’t have to have ads trying to redirect my attention elsewhere.
That said, YouTube is very much a double-edged sword. This is why I used the word “use” in the title. We need to learn to see technology, in this case, YouTube, as a tool to further our goals. YouTube is a double-edged sword because there is a huge amount of fantastic free content available, but there is also a lot of crap that you can easily start to watch, and before you know it, you have spent hours of your time lost in random rabbit holes.
I use a browser extension called Unhook, allowing me to change the YouTube experience on my laptop completely.
The experience goes from this:
Removing the recommended videos, the comments, and all the rest, turns YouTube into a pure search engine for educational videos because it means I visit YouTube for a specific purpose, fulfill it, and then get out.
This is an example of making conscious decisions about technology use, especially the counterintuitive idea of removing features instead of constantly seeking more.
I’ve taken a similar philosophical approach with my project management software as a service Blue — trying to build something that does fewer things but does them better, instead of trying to be the swiss-knife of everything.
The other key recommendation that I have about YouTube is how to choose which videos to watch. I may one day write up a list of recommended YouTube channels, but my favorite thing to do is to search for related content to enhance my reading.
For instance, right now I am reading a book called “Caesar: Life of a Colossus” which is 697 page read. To add further context to what I am reading, I can then search specific battles that Caesar was engaged in to understand further the tactics he used to defeat his enemies. Video analysis is a much better format for this than a book; in turn, I get a broader comprehension of that time in history.
YouTube is something that even a few generations ago would have seemed like magic. A place where anything you want to know will be explained at any level of detail that you care to have — for free.
It’s a shame if we use it to only watch cat videos and pranks.