No doubt you all know that today is the 400th anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare. Woo! The English language wouldn’t be the same without him. Happy Birthday Shakespeare! I shall be reading some of my favourite sonnets in his honour.
To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I ey’d,
Such seems your beauty still.
But eleven years ago today, something else amazing happened, and as not so many people are celebrating this event already, I thought I’d mention it.
On 23 April 2005, the first video was uploaded onto YouTube.
Do you share your birthday with YouTube? If so, congratulations! Here’s a video to celebrate.
In the beginning, YouTube was designed just as an easy way of sharing family videos, which were too big to email. Just think what’s happened since then. The most popular video of all time is still Psy, with Gangnam Style. I love it. So far, it’s had 2.5 billion views. In fourth place is one of my favourite songs, Uptown Funk, by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars, with 1.5 billion. But I’m not linking to the song’s main video (although I think it’s awesome) – I’m linking to the Old Movie Dance Scenes Mashup, which features 66 clips set to Uptown Funk, and is BRILLIANT if you love dance as much as I do. I’ve happily wasted so much time watching those clips and marvelling at the editing. This one featuring the dance scenes of Christopher Walken (there are loads) is just as good.
YouTube has got so creative over the years. Of course there are all the book vloggers, who are wonderful at highlighting how many fantastic new reads are out there. There’s Zoella, and Alfie, and Joe, and all the Minecraft guys (my sons are big fans of Stampylonghead), but my favourite vlogger is Vi Hart, who makes extraordinary things every day, and must be one of the most creative, informative young people out there. Check her out. I think you need to discover her.
I use YouTube all the time. A couple of weeks ago, when my new book was launched, we had #LoveSongDay and asked people to share their favourite video of a love song. People were linking to YouTube from all over the place and it even trended on Twitter. It was such fun and so easy to do. I watched every video. It was really emotional to be reminded of so much great music from over the years, that had meant so much to so many people. (Most popular band choice: The Cure. Most moving video of all: Sinead O’Connor singing Nothing Compares 2U, written by Prince. Yet another of my musical heroes to die this year. 2016 is turning out to be truly terrible for the loss of much-loved celebrities. But at least we can remind ourselves how amazing they were by sharing clips of their work from YouTube, such as this classic from the equally fantastic and much missed Victoria Wood.)
I use it for writing research, too. When I was writing my second book, Beads, I wanted to set a scene in the Taj Mahal, but I’d never been there. Books and photos were fine, but it was actually people’s home videos on YouTube that brought it to life for me, such as the birdsong in the gardens (I’d never thought of that), and the pile of smelly trainers by the front entrance because people are asked to remove their shoes. Nobody thought to describe those things, but videos captured them.
I notice I’ve come this far and haven’t even talked about cats yet. How did that happen?
My younger son recently discovered Monty Python through YouTube – which is a joy he’ll have all his life. It’s essential, I find, when there’s an incredible act on Britain’s Got Talent, like Beau Dermott and I just have to share what they did, or simply watch it over and over. Or when Lady Gaga sings the American national anthem at the Super Bowl SO BEAUTIFULLY. Or my friend Candy Gourlay links to a cartoon that perfectly explains what empathy is, and why it’s so important, and I just have to share it NOW. (Reading books is scientifically proven to increase your levels of empathy, by the way.)
It’s good for news stories. Dictators can’t hide their crimes any more, when ordinary citizens can take a video and post it on the internet for all to see.
Best of all, YouTube is great for learning. If I need to master a new cookery or maths skill quickly, there’s a video on it. If I want to learn something truly amazing about how the world works, or humans do, there’s a TED video that will expand my mind in 15 minutes, and make me a better person. Here is my favourite, from Professor Amy Cuddy, on how a two-minute change to your posture can literally change your life. At the end of the video she encourages other people to share it, and I do. I’m sharing it now. Watch this video! You won’t regret it.
Happy birthday, YouTube. You are the internet at its most awesome. And you’re only 11. Just think what you’ll be able to do by the time you’re a teen …