After spending two years studying the implications of writing on a remote indigenous culture in the rain forest of Papua New Guinea, Wesch turned his attention to the effects of social media and digital technology on global society. His videos on culture, technology, education, and information have been viewed by millions, translated in over 15 languages, and are frequently featured at international film festivals and major academic conferences worldwide.
Wesch has won several major awards for his work, including a Wired Magazine Rave Award, and he was recently named an Emerging Explorer by National Geographic. He has also won several teaching awards, including the 2008 CASE/Carnegie US Professor of the Year for Doctoral and Research Universities.
Wesch graduated summa cum laude from the Kansas State University anthropology program in 1997 and returned as a faculty member in 2004 after receiving his doctorate in anthropology at the University of Virginia, where he pursued research on social and cultural change in Melanesia, focusing on the introduction of print and print-based practices like mapping and census-taking in the Mountain Ok region of Papua New Guinea. He lived in the region for a total of 18 months between 1999 to 2003. This work inspired Wesch to examine the effects of new media more broadly, especially digital media.
To this end, Wesch launched the Digital Ethnography Working Group, a team of undergraduates exploring human uses of digital technology. Coinciding with the launch of this group, Wesch created a short video, "The Machine is Us/ing Us." Released on YouTube January 31, 2007, it quickly became one of the most popular videos in the blogosphere and has now been viewed more than 12 million times.
He followed up the success of "The Machine is Us/ing Us" with "A Vision of Students Today," a short video he created with 200 K-State students exploring the state of higher education today. The video was the most popular video on the web in October 2007 and now has more than four million views.
Wesch also has led K-State undergraduate students in a three-year study of YouTube culture. The resulting 55-minute video has now been viewed more than one million times and was called "a phenomenon" by The New York Times.
Saying that "the more individualistic we become, the more we crave community," Wesch speaks on the innate modern-day connection between the media and our sense of cultural and individual identity. Drawing this connection into the world of marketing, he explains how, in worrying about page views and unique visitors, we can lose our view of the big picture: What are we contributing to society?
- The End of Wonder in the Age of Whatever
New media and technology present us with an overwhelming bounty of tools for connection, creativity, collaboration, and knowledge creation – a true “Age of Whatever” where anything seems possible. But any enthusiasm about these remarkable possibilities is immediately tempered by that other “Age of Whatever” – an age in which people feel increasingly disconnected, disempowered, tuned out, and alienated. Such problems are especially prevalent in education, where the Internet (which must be the most remarkable creativity and collaboration machine in the history of the world) often enters our classrooms as a distraction device. It is not enough to merely deliver information in traditional fashion to make our students “knowledgeable.” Nor is it enough to give them the skills to learn, making them “knowledge-able.” Knowledge and skills are necessary, but not sufficient. What is needed more than ever is to inspire our students to wonder, to nurture their appetite for curiosity, exploration, and contemplation, to help them attain an insatiable appetite to ask and pursue big, authentic, and relevant questions, so that they can harness and leverage the bounty of possibility all around us and rediscover the “end” or purpose of wonder, and stave off the historical end of wonder.
- Learning as “soul-making”
After years of experimenting with social media and praising the learning potential of these tools, Wesch realized that they don’t automatically establish either genuine empathy or meaningful bonds between professors and students. Using social media is but one of the many possible ways to connect, but the message that Wesch’s experimentation brings is that only genuine connections may restore the sense of joy and curiosity that we hope to instill in our students.
- From Knowledge to Knowledge-able: Learning in New Media Environments
Today a new medium of communication emerges every time somebody creates a new web application. Yet these developments are not without disruption and peril. Familiar long-standing institutions, organizations and traditions disappear or transform beyond recognition. And while new media bring with them new possibilities for openness, transparency, engagement and participation, they also bring new possibilities for surveillance, manipulation, distraction and control. Critical thinking, the old mainstay of higher education, is no longer enough to prepare our youth for this world. We must create learning environments that inspire a way of being-in-the-world in which they can harness and leverage this new media environment as well as recognize and actively examine, question and even re-create the (increasingly digital) structures that shape our world.
- Our Mediated Culture & What It Means for Marketers
It took tens of thousands of years for writing to emerge after humans spoke their first words. It took thousands more before the printing press and a few hundred again before the telegraph. Yet today, a new medium of communication emerges every time somebody creates a new web application. A Flickr here, a Twitter there... and a new way of relating to others emerges, and along with it new types of conversation, affiliations, and collaboration. Using examples from anthropological fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, YouTube, university classrooms, and projections into the future, professor and keynote speaker Michael Wesch offers a fascinating look at the often-unnoticed but profound ways in which media "mediate" our culture and transform the way brands and companies need to consider how they relate to their clients and consumers.