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Why I usually don’t argue with YouTube videos

This isn’t terribly important but I’m airing a minor grievance. People frequently email the TV crew to say “I saw this video on YouTube. Can you refute it?” Here’s why I usually refuse.

Frankly, I hate dealing with videos. Text is an asynchronous mode of communication, whereas video is synchronous. (“Synchronous” is a fancy-schmancy computer science major’s way of saying “dependent on time.”) See, when you’re arguing, the entire argument is part of an interconnected whole. Bits are presented that rely on other bits for validity. Grasping an argument is not like reading a story; you have you to bounce back and forth and cross reference things in order to understand them.

In a way, I think that’s why members of the creationist movement are so much in love with live debates, while being such miserable failures at validating their stuff through rigorous scientific publication. A weak argument is much more easily exposed when you can scroll back to an earlier part and double check for inconsistencies. In live format, once a point whizzes past, the words are lost in time and you have to rely on your memory of what was said. Obviously we do this ourselves on the Atheist Experience, discussing issues with callers in real time, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it changes the viewer’s experience, and you have to rely a little bit more on the claimed authority of the speakers since you can’t fact-check effectively in real time.

So YouTube is not quite the same as a live presentation, because you can easily move the time slider backwards and forwards to review what was said. But I still hate doing that, because there’s no effective search tool. There’s no index. Also, it is much harder to accurately quote the passage you’re responding to. Text is something I can copy and paste. With video, all I can do is hunt for approximately the right spot on the video, sit through parts of the monologue that I’m not using for a while, and then painstakingly transcribe the text while pausing frequently and scrolling back to make sure I got it right.

And finally, it’s time consuming. In text, all the words exist simultaneously on the page, and you can flip through and skim to find what you need fairly quickly. If there are large passages of obvious nonsense that don’t need to be addressed, it’s easy to detect where they begin and end. With video, all you can do is… watch the video. In a real-time debate, you can at least respond and influence the direction of the conversation in real time. Video is a flat, dead expanse of time that doesn’t listen to you.

Incidentally, this is yet another reason why I can’t stand watching Zeitgeist. I don’t so much mind responding to all those horrible arguments when they are laid out in text format. But I refuse to waste two hours of staring at a screen if there is no effective attempt to entertain.

What I’m saying is that movies are simply a terrible format for holding a serious argument, and the majority of the time if I get a link to a movie saying “Watch this” and nothing more, it’s probably getting archived and ignored. Other people on the TV list might sometimes answer it. But if you want a response to a movie-based argument from me, all I can suggest is that you either find a written version of the argument and present that, or sum up the main points that you find difficult.

And don’t even get me started on YouTube comments. Whoever tries to hold a serious discussion with people through short soundbites that are presented ten to a page and cycle off the front within minutes… all I can say is, may the FSM have mercy on your soul.

End of rant.


  1. says

    I can testify as to the futility of the youtube comments section. Trouble is it's so damn tempting. There's always some numpty (to be polite) on every video who spews out some fallacious comment that is screaming to be knocked down. I often see other people attempting to counter the stupidity, but they tend to have weak or incomplete arguments themselves. So I feel obliged to do my bit.However, at least 90% of the time the other guy tries to turn it into a mud slinging match and I have to walk away to avoid stooping to their level.The 500 character limit and the non linear disorganised format of the comments section doesn't help either.

  2. says

    What Youtube users normally do is to replay clips of the points that they are responding to and then talk about them, one at a time. Let's face it though: it's a pain in the ass.Youtube's comment system is utterly horrible for holding any sort of discussion. It's much too disjointed and difficult to navigate. The most that can be accomplished is to make a brief point (let's not forget that it's limited to 500 characters) and then see what people respond to it.It would be much better if Youtube implemented a forum-style comment system, but beggars can't be choosers, apparently.

  3. says

    And the differnce between blog comments and yotuube comments, is what again?Was a bit of whiney and pleading wasn't it?What about the text limits here? etc. etc. etc. Humor and Contradiction, I love it.

  4. says

    It'd be preferable if Youtube would actually protect proper speech and not be utter tools.And you know, keep KNOW fraudsters like Venomboy off.

  5. Martin says

    I'm not happy about the text limits here, but Blogger sets them, not us, and they are at least set at a much higher capacity then YouTube's pitiful 500 character limit, enabling actual conversations to take place. At least two people here so far have mentioned the 500 character limit, which you seem to have missed in your rather amateur effort at snark.Kazim was right. It looks like PM is back on form.

  6. says

    As always I'm discredited for disagreement. Luckily, talking to all you has desensitized me to all that.But seriously,am I the only the who read a little "pot calling the kettle black" in the post? That's all I was pointing out. That any criticism you have for youtube comments, or videos, could apply to this blog and show, so I ask again what's the differnce? Your response about the number of characters misses the point completly. It is the SAME THING, with an arbitrary differnce, being employed as a reason of superiority. Furhter, what does it matter how many words, if you don't read them all anyways, as the original blog stated.

  7. says

    Wow, that was what? A week for his fake niceness to go away and him to become a huge douche to everyone again? I guess first impressions are the most accurate impressions after all.

  8. says

    I utterly agree with the ananity of post-article commentary (he says, commenting).The latest Chain Bear ( deals with this issue as a sort of response to an earlier issue in which the comments got utterly out of control ('ll repeat here that it's very, very depressing that commentary often indicates what people would be like in real life if they weren't limited by un-anonymity. Sigh

  9. says

    Kazim, maybe you can request that the emailer sum up the argument they are having a problem with, then you can answer it in email, and let THEM deal with it on YouTube.

  10. says

    "As always I'm discredited for disagreement. Luckily, talking to all you has desensitized me to all that."No you're discredited for being whiny and annoying.

  11. says

    @ing Glad the mods are keeping everyone on subject! Thanks for the opinion big guy. You're really helping my critical thinking, and really represent your philosophy well…I was censored here for using the nasty responses like you do, which seem to be your only method, but its okay I will stay on topic. So how once again is a youtube video different then AE, oh wait a gosh darn second AE is on yotube… how are video comments stupid, oh wait I am making comments right here…never mind, let just leave it like you said, I'm a douche because I point out the obvious…got it.

  12. says

    at PM, not getting into a troll bait with you cause someone pissed in your rice crispies, scamper off if people play too rough.Again, drawing attention "I'm not happy about the text limits here, but Blogger sets them, not us, and they are at least set at a much higher capacity then YouTube's pitiful 500 character limit, enabling actual conversations to take place. At least two people here so far have mentioned the 500 character limit, which you seem to have missed in your rather amateur effort at snark."Is math THAT hard?

  13. says

    @PMConvenience…That is the difference.Technically, there is nothing here that cannot be converted to a video, or broken up into a series of smaller comments and posted on youtube. There is nothing here that cannot be converted to Morse code and transmitted via smoke signals on a clear night (although the JPGs would obviously have to be converted to binary first).That does not make each of those mediums equally adequate for all purposes.If your logic were applied 50 years ago, one could have dismissed the internet on the grounds that the same thing could be accomplished by mailing punch cards to each other.

  14. says

    Regarding the other question — how is arguing with an AE video on YouTube different from arguing with any other video on YouTube? — it isn't. And my statement that it is a waste of time to argue with online videos applies just as much. That's part of the reason why the show format is to get people and talk to us live DURING the time we're on, because that kind of one-on-one interaction works well. If we were going to have a longer, more interactive philosophical discussion with more people involved, we'd put it on the blog, because that's better done in a written format.And really, by saying "I don't argue with YouTube videos," I wasn't in any way implying that YouTube videos are somehow bad — just not the right format for an extended discussion with the video creator.

  15. says

    Typical PM tactic…come on, say something blindingly stupid, get corrected, call the waaaambulance.Difference between AE and YT:Blog: 1. you can go back up and reference the OP and the entire comment thread with ease. As was pointed out in the OP.2. The character count, while limited, is still long enough to say something coherent, unlike YT.3. Unlike YT, comments are automatically all on one page. YouTube's comment structure was either set up by a drunken macaque or has just had to make sacrifices to deal with 10K+ comments.TV Show:As Kazim stated, during the time of the call, it's a direct verbal interaction, the kind that we lament the loss of in this digital age. A conversation goes until it reaches a natural end (or if callers prove themselves to be complete douchenozzles and Matt hangs up ;)Ultimately, PM, you should know by now that if you make your points in a coherent and respectful manner, you get respect in kind. Drive-by whining as you normally exhibit…not so much.

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