77 YouTube: Science Isn’t Just for Geeks Anymore

Neziah Doe

The average color of the universe is called a “Cosmic Latte”

The Internet is Miley Cyrus—it will never be tamed and the more you tell it to stop making you feel uncomfortable, the more it will come back at you like a wrecking ball with ten more heads than before and it will win awards while obsessing over genitalia, insisting that it cannot stop. For many young people, the Internet is their medium of finding people with similar interests and exposure to what life has in store.

Within the abyss of cat videos and illegal downloads of music and films, on YouTube there are dynamic and creative creators curating content for the curious mind. Strongly believing that any creation could be used for the good of society, I have become obsessed with the idea of these informational YouTube channels and the endless wonder they provide for people every day. This genre of videos is usually presented in a list format, to explain how it was founded and what it means for us.

This community on YouTube is one of the most accessible and interactive sources of information on the Iinternet. Many people agree, including Nava Maynard, who is a huge fan of these videos, “I think that the information side of YouTube attempts to open viewers up to as many new types of information as possible. It expands the brain and in that manner, your social circle as well. It comes down to the realization that the world is bigger than just yourself. It also teaches a lot about agency and that you can make a difference even in just a local manner.” Many people complain that the authentic process of education has been deteriorating since the Internet was established—with everything I have experienced with this bright community of people, I believe that something beautiful has arisen.
An ostrich egg would take four hours to boil
Given the nature of the Internet, it’s debatable how this community really began. Many would say it began with the likes of Vi Hart, who made instructional videos on all things mathematical for Khan Academy. While Khan Academy is most certainly the granddaddy of this community, there was an interactive element missing from their very helpful math tutorials. 2011 brought the channels Veritasium, MinutePhysics, and CGP Grey. While they had created videos that people adored, they did not reach a broader audience until the Internet’s famous had brought them and their educational tools to light.

In came the Green brothers, already YouTube’s “nerdiest” duo (with a huge fanbase called “Nerdfighteria”) with a new channel called CrashCourse. The dynamic duo created full series of educational videos based on what the viewers were asking for—physics, biology, world history and psychology, just to name a few topics covered. This branched into the video channels Mental Floss (a channel comprising only lists of facts), SciShow (experiments, asking the “big questions”, astronomy, biology, chemistry, physics, and more…), Sexplanations (sex/gender studies), and Healthcare Triage (medical findings, medicine, and the healthcare system), inspiring others to create exciting videos about the things that we are supposed to learn in class and the things that we never had the opportunity to learn.
There is more real lemon juice in Lemon Pledge furniture polish than in Country Time Lemonade
This fandom seems to be following me wherever I go. Assembling Lego with my boyfriend Aryeh in his school lounge, a group of friends began to accumulate around us to watch us play (and by us I mean my boyfriend dictatorially demanding me where to put each piece to his design, while I got to make it look all pretty in the end with all the dot pieces we collected).

“You guys are not actually playing with Lego, are you?” asks Rivka, an old friend. We grinned at her knowingly as we assemble the spaceship car.

“If this isn’t how our first car looks like, I will break up with you” I tease.

“You guys are such nerds,” says Ian, a friend of Aryeh’s, plopping his thin self on the couch with over-priced salads for himself and his girlfriend.

“We did meet because of Nerdfighteria,” I said.

“Well, you should know that Ayala is writing her paper on educational YouTube videos,” Aryeh says. “You’re into that kind of thing, right Ian?”

“I write for Mental Floss,” he says casually.

“Wait, you’re kidding me, right?” I say.

“I tweeted the director if he had any internships and he said he needed writers. That’s all there is to it, you should get a Twitter.”

“But I don’t want a Twitter, social media is the devil,” I say in earnest.

“Then you’re just not going to get these opportunities. Twitter is where it’s at! Also, you should talk to Nava—this kind of stuff is Nava’s life.”

Because so many of these videos are related to John and Hank Green (the founders of CrashCourse, SciShow, Mental Floss, Sexplanations, and Healthcare Triage), many would say that this is not a community of its own but a sub-fandom of what their following—called Nerdfighteria—is. A fan named Jenna described it as “a branch from the same tree.”

“Nerdfighteria serves as an introduction for those people to the other aspects of online culture and the search for information. It is more of a central, wide-reaching, introductory branch that tends to stay close to the heart,” said superfan Nava.
Every day more money is printed for Monopoly than the U.S. treasury
On most SciShow, Mental Floss, and CrashCourse videos, one thing is pretty much the same—the abundance of questions pertaining to the video in the comment sections. “If we know why mint feels ‘cool,’ then why does one’s mouth seemingly freeze when drinking water?” When people post questions like that, it gives the community a chance to discuss things and do their own research. It’s very hard to not see this as a modern classroom.

With technology wildly changing classroom dynamics, there is a question, “Is this the future of education?” With the common-folk procrastination tools of BuzzFeed, Cracked, and online magazines of the sort, people are obtaining information for fun—from fun and relatable people. No wonder people sneak onto other websites while they are in class—YouTube is interactive; channels like SciShow are only answering questions that come from the comments. In a world of instant gratification, the amount of information that YouTube provides on real questions is astounding. Why does asparagus make your pee smell bad? Do I only use ten percent of my brain? What’s the deal with eating disorders?

When asked what this community means for the future, CrashCourse enthusiast Jenna had this to say: “students who know about these resources are starting to use them more and more—like Khan Academy. With CrashCourse, [John] Green caters to AP History students, but I just watched them for fun. That said, they will not take over the classic classroom setting; there is still the need for a teacher.”

I love school—the smell of fresh pencils, the crisp hopeful feeling of September days, seeing everyone after the summer. I like using my computer, but I like having a person in front of me, talking to me. Someone who knows my name. I like going on the journey of education with the people around me. But there is just something appealing about this extra help—short, humorous, and free.

Asking YouTube nerd Nava about this was delightful, though. For the whole interview she was practically falling off her seat, her eyes alight with the passion that fired her making this part of YouTube such a huge part of her life:

YES. Watching the way CrashCourse has been embraced by educators and students alike is the first indication of this. I think education is steering more towards personal choice rather than institutional education, or at least much of society is pointing out those flaws and inaccuracies in the system…. Taking the issue into their own hands is validating and freeing—this can be achieved through ‘joining’ this subculture.

I think that this will hit a threshold and then become institutionalized as a standard of education, but not before it sees a backlash. Also, ease of access to information that you want to learn, rather than being forced to learn, is a huge factor, particularly the voluntary aspect. Another huge factor is the visual experience rather than the textual experience. Society is moving towards this visual theme must be embraced by ALL aspects of culture—education included—or else those nonconforming aspects will fail.
A scientist who weighed people immediately before and after death concluded that the soul weighs 41 grams
Scrolling through the videos produced by Mental Floss and SciShow, I do not even know where to look first. They have multiple series going on at once—I could just binge. The religious person inside of me is tickled by the title, “What is the meaning of life?” Wow, I knew science was good, but not that good. The second I hear Hank Green, one of the hosts of SciShow, say, “Don’t die—have sex!” I smile, happy that that question is still being asked and will never be properly and universally answered.

I compiled a Survey Monkey to ask people in the community some questions, similar to the ones that I asked fans Jenna and Nava. Most of these channels hold surveys at least once a year, trying to get feedback from their viewers as to how to better themselves. “[These videos] showed me how naturally curious we all are, how we have this big desire to know things.” Another viewer said, “These videos also sparked my curiosity, and made me realize my passions in life.”
During the movie “The Silence of the Lambs,” Hannibal Lecter never blinks while talking on screen
It’s a cold October day and as I approach Madison Square Park, I look down occasionally on my phone, ensuring that I reached the right destination. The destination in question is SciShow, one of the leading informational YouTube channels. The event is titled “What is Energy?” The mysterious title leaves a lot of questions. I walk my way down the winding path, the autumn wind blowing through the defenses of my sweater.

In the corner of the park is a giant clear cube, with multicolored balls jumping up and down in its different sections. Each section is color coded, and the viewers have to attempt to make the balls fly up using different methods, giving the person an interactive understanding of what different units of energy are, compared to one another, and how much power does it take to produce them. A young group of people is surrounding the tablets scattered around, trying to make the balls go up. Some are laughing during their attempts. A child with a particularly determined look on his face is turning a crank like it is the last thing he will ever do. People are in clusters, looking over at the real life “episode” going on before them as they talk excitedly to the producers.

Circling the event like a hawk on its prey, I don’t feel uninvited, but out of place. I like science, but even after starting to watch these videos, I need to look up some things on Google before it all really comes together.

“Hi!” a gawky, tall volunteer in a sterling white lab coat says to me friendlily, “Would you like to try this?”

“Yeah, sure, of course,” I say, taking the crank the child was playing with before, “What’s the record?”

“Five point eight,” he says, “No one is going to beat it though.” With the steel determination of a racehorse I hit 5.8 in a second, trying as hard as I can to get to 5.9, after a few minutes I give up, the volunteer looking at me like I’m silly. People around me are not noticing, they all must have tried the same thing.

“So, why did you decide to volunteer here?” I ask, hoping to alleviate the awkward display of arrogance.

“Well, I really like the show. When they were asking for volunteers in the area, I knew that was something I wanted to help with.”

“Do you feel like you’re a part of a community?” I ask him.

“Yes,” he automatically replies, “If it wasn’t we couldn’t have events like this.” His comment gave me the courage to begin to speak to all the other strangers there. Each and every person I talked to was friendlier than the next, more excited by my idea for the project than the now-not-strangers before them, nearly falling at my knees to answer my questions.

“THAT IS THE COOLEST IDEA FOR A PAPER EVER,” exclaims one of the girls I meet, already bundled up in her winter coat. I laugh, asking her the same questions I asked everyone before, but the answers are all the same. I do not know if that reinforces their sense of community or just proves that they are all clones or brainwashed. Yes, this is a community and a subculture—a lovable one at that. Yes, I love learning new things through this new way of introducing information. Yes, I do think this is the future of education. Yes, I think that this community is a beast of its own, separate from the other projects that the founders Hank Green and Michael Aranda have curated. Yes, I am involved in the STEM fields, but still love these videos.

“Do you want to talk to the producer?” someone asks me. I twiddle my thumbs nervously. I am playing with the big boys now.

Meredith, one of the producers, is as kind and enthusiastic as everyone else. When I ask her questions, she also gives me the same answers.

“Did you think that this project was going to be as successful as it is?”

“If you told me five years ago that I could work full time for an informational YouTube channel, and we could have events of this magnitude in New York City and ads in the subway systems, I would have thought you were crazy. But look, it happened. And it’s brilliant and I love being a part of it.”
The Bible has been translated into Klingon
Whether you love listening to John Green writing letters to historical figures on CrashCourse, or walking to the supermarket ensures you also return with a bag full of questions, there is a channel on YouTube for you to satisfy your curiosity. So, as Lindsay Doe of Sexplanations says—stay curious.

Discussion Questions
Why would somebody want to read this piece (the “Who cares?” factor)?
Can you clearly identify the author’s intention for the piece?
How well does the author support the intention of the piece? Cite specific details that support or take away from the author’s intention.
Is there information missing from this piece that would make its intention clearer? What else would you like to know?
Does the author portray herself as a round character? How does she do this?
Do you trust the author of this piece? Why or why not?
How clearly does the author establish a sense of setting/space in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
How clearly does the author establish characters other than the self in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
Did you learn anything new from reading this piece? If so, what?
Are there particular passages with engaging language/description that stood out to you? Describe the appeal of these passages.
Would you read more writing from this author? Why or why not?



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Teaching Autoethnography Copyright © by Neziah Doe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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