As an early Millenial, content with my Netflix account and YouTube videos, it can be said that the true online video revolution passed me by. YouTube’s mainstay, ‘vlogging,’ is completely lost on me. I hardly understand Snapchat, use Vine only infrequently, and avoid Instagram altogether. Not much wanting to one’s own face isn’t conducive, it would seem, to routinely taking videos of said face.
That doesn’t change the fact that video is now everywhere, totally unavoidable on the web. Embedded in every news story, festooned across social media, even in the ads lodged in the margins of every website. The prevalence of the moving image is, at times, offensive to me, the worst evidence that I live in the future once dreamed of by science fiction writers.
While the abundance of video is frustrating to me, the abundance of video recording is something I find promising for the future. The advent of cheap digital video has effectively democratized news collection, meaning anyone with a smartphone or similar technology can capture — deliberately or accidentally — the first footage of a breaking story. While there have many great examples of this potential, an early 2013 event illustrated the value of video proliferation beyond the shadow of a doubt.
On February 15 of that year, a meteor entered the atmosphere and exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia. The light and sound of the meteor was visible throughout the region, and the explosion caused minor damage to buildings and some injuries. Where previous impact events relied heavily on first-hand verbal accounts of the sights, sounds, and damage caused, the documentation of the Chelyabinsk event owes a lot to the prevalence of dashboard cameras in Russia. While “dashcams” have been slow to catch on in North America (with the notable exception of law enforcement), in Russia they’re commonplace, used to prove insurance fraud or police misconduct. This ubiquity meant that, as the meteor streaked over morning commuters, hundreds of cameras were conveniently placed to capture its arrival in detail.
With extensive footage available from dashcams, security cameras, and smartphones across the region, gone was the reliance upon government statements or spoken accounts. Instead, viewers got to witness the meteor first-hand on dozens of YouTube accounts, and media outlets had their pick of footage from numerous angles and locations, illustrating the blast itself or the resulting damage. So abundant was the footage that scientists were able to calculate the trajectory and brightness of the event with surprising accuracy.
So I can forgive being bombarded with video at every turn, annoying though it may be. When it matters, I’ll be counting on someone with a smartphone and a bit of data to tell me about an important event, as it happens, with video to back it up.