DIY, with Help from the ‘Bots


Stark wisdom, courtesy of

After this past seven weeks of reading, I’ve come to a “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality about my involvement in the digital world. Reading Rheingold’s book Net Smart urged me to start using my social media platforms in a more interactive way, including creating my first Twitter account. To put this new digital immersion to the test, I thought I’d try to elicit some advice from Facebook friends by asking for allergy remedies. Pollen counts were high in Wisconsin this past week, and I was suffering, so I took to Facebook for advice. Because I so seldom post, I wasn’t expecting much of a response, but I had about 10 people comment. The jokesters in my life recommended scotch or gin with a dose of “wait it out”, but several other friends offered real advice and remedies. One such recommendation was the use of essential oils. Intrigued by that option, I decided to delve further by Googling “how to use essential oils for allergies.” This led to several DIY videos and articles.

Small-World Network, Old-World Coffee Klatch

By calling out for this allergy help, I was doing what Rheingold called collaboration and cooperation, “humans solv{ing} problems collaboratively” (p. 149) wherein “virtual communities are technologies of cooperation” (p. 151). I directly asked for help in an effort to learn something, knowing that small talk like this builds trust in this virtual community. I used my “small-world network” where network implies a “sparsely knit/loosely bound” community to seek advice. Twenty years ago, I might have asked two or three friends (aka coffee klatch) the same question face to face.


Coffee Klatch, courtesy of Hubpages

By asking my network, I received answers from Duluth and Houston, from men and women, from young and middle aged. I diversified my answer, and at the same time, I broadcast that answer to other people in my network or “personal learning network” (Rheigold, p. 229).

Using Rheingold’s analogy of “gardening” in the online community, I thanked all the contributors, responded directly to a few, and ignored the ones that were off-topic (p. 166). When someone in my network poses a similar question in the future, I will use my “social capital” and look for ways that I can contribute to the discussion (Rheingold, p. 212).

I know it when I see it, but who showed it to me?

Decades ago, the idea of obscenity or pornography was defined by a federal judge as broadly as “you know it when you see it.” As Christine T. Wolf writes in her June 2016 article “DIY Videos on YouTube: Identity and possibility in the age of algorithms,” online credibility is often judged this way by viewers, including me. My common sense credibility detection involves:

  1. How many views has the video gotten?
  2. How many subscribers does the video producer have?
  3. How is the video titled and tagged?
  4. How is the video shot (professionally/amateurishly)?
  5. How credible do I perceive the speaker to be? Does the speaker tell me?

Like the participants in Wolf’s study, I employed CRAP detection, but I didn’t give much thought to how or why specific videos appeared in my feed. She notes,

The particular mechanics of the platform — the how and why of what videos are presented to them — sink into the background. Given the central role media like these videos play in constructing notions of self, ability, and confidence, the seeming invisibility of the platform — particularly the algorithmic sorting that provides a heavily customized experience — raises concerns over the potential power algorithms wield in shaping social realities” (Wolf).

My “how to use essential oils for allergies” search resulted in videos by yogis, doctors (of natural medicine), beauty gurus, mommy vloggers, and people selling essential oils. I have a YouTube account, a Facebook account, and a Google account. Of course, my reading/watching habits are being shared across platforms. I would like to test what my search results would yield when I am logged out of all those accounts, on a public computer or friend’s computer.  I strongly suspect the results would differ.

Act, or Be Acted On

My biggest take-away from this week’s readings are the need to stay ever vigilant, skeptical, and curious. Rheingold’s closing remarks caution readers, “If you aren’t an actor in a democracy, you are the acted on” (p. 242). That applies to voting, consuming, and prosuming. I can use his advice to realize that even my search results are curated by invisible forces that I should consistently question. However, I’m also heartened by the notion that Web 2.0 is dismantling some of the hierarchies of knowledge that have been in place (Wolf). With YouTube, I can DIY just about anything I wish to. And it is building confidence. My husband and I have replaced a sink, fixed a toilet, and restarted a flaky water heater, tasks we probably wouldn’t have even attempted in the age before YouTube. That’s empowering. The next time a household DIY comes up, we just need to ask a few more questions as we evaluate the videos we’re watching. If nothing else, I might start doing a few out-of-the-norm-for-Amery searches to see if I can throw off the prediction-bots. 

Posted on October 13, 2018, in Blogs, Digital, Literacy, Social Media, Teaching, Technology, Workplace and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Hi Amery,
    Did you allergy symptoms go away or lessen? I’m curious!

    • Thanks for asking, Lisa. Nope! They didn’t lessen. I tried a new allergy medication (Claritin), and it didn’t work as well as Zyrtec. I’ve been using a humidifier and essential oil drops at night, but I think the biggest help will be the recent frost/snow. Maybe that will kill all the allergy-causing pollens. If not, I guess it’s time to go to the doctor.

  2. Hi Amery,

    I also wrote about Wolf’s DIY YouTube Videos article because a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine is watching video tutorials about makeup on YouTube. Originally, I used them to learn about a new makeup technique or trend. Now, I use them not only to learn but also because they are entertaining. Like you, I analyze how many views a video has, how many subscribers the creator has, and the quality of the video, but really it’s the content that matters. When I like the makeup look, I’m in.

    Recently, one of my favorite beauty vloggers, Brianna Fox, posted a video about a smokey green eye look for fall. I loved it and even shared it on Facebook. That was the first time I have revealed my somewhat juvenile and vain pastime with all of my Facebook friends. Here’s the video if you are interested:

    The makeup is fun, but I also find myself interested in learning about a particular beauty vlogger I like. They talk about their lives, their careers, and they ask viewers to comment. It’s kind of fun to follow. Usually, I’m just lurking. I don’t comment. I am amazed how open and honest they are, and I wonder how their YouTube videos affect their real lives. I’m sure there is a big downside. They get nasty comments, and people in their real lives judge them, too.

    Thanks for your post,


  3. Thanks, Angie, for sharing the link. I’m glad to see another YouTube beauty fan! I watch them, too, when I’m getting ready in the morning, and I find inspiration in their new looks and reviews. I have a few that I trust with reviews so that I know what I’m getting into before I buy a product. I try to wait until a few of the beauty gurus have purchased new products before I run out and buy them and get a dude (Hello, Anastasia Subculture palette). I love that green eye look. I’ve been digging the greens this fall.

    I’m surprised how much some of them share, and like other celebrities, I imagine that some of them cannot go places without being recognized by fans. I’ll share some of the people I’m subscribed to, in case you’d like to check some out: Samantha March, Stephanie Marie, Hannah Louise Poston, and Emily Noel. I know that some ignore comments, delete certain comments, and others just turn comments off.

    I’m a lurker, too, and I’ve gone through spurts of subscribing to a bunch of them and then unsubscribing. I find that watching too many of them spurs my spending bug, which I definitely don’t need help with.

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