From time to time, when I’m discussing or debating something online, people send me links to videos — usually on YouTube — that they expect me to watch in support of whatever point they’re arguing.
Nowadays, I usually decline. I’m always open to a well-reasoned argument, even if I disagree with it. But it needs to be presented in a format where I can engage with it properly, fact-check it easily, and make sure I have understood it correctly. The video format doesn’t do that, and in fact more often than not it gets in the way.
- Videos are inefficient. I can read far more quickly than I can watch a video. When I am reading, I can also skip over content that is already familiar to me, or that isn’t relevant to the topic at hand.
- Videos are not searchable. With written material, especially online, I can quickly copy and paste words or phrases into Google to fact-check it, or into a forum post to reply to you or ask about it elsewhere. I can’t easily do this with videos.
- Videos spoon-feed you. When reading, I can step back and ask questions. If there’s something I haven’t understood, I can re-read it several times to make sure that I get it. By contrast, with videos, the videographer sets the pace, and you have to fight against that if you want to do any critical thinking. Sure, you can pause and rewind, but doing so is much more inefficient and imprecise than with written text.
- Videos are soporific. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve momentarily fallen asleep watching a video and had to rewind it because I’ve missed an important point. Or gotten distracted onto something else and lost track of what was being said. By contrast, when I’m reading, my mind is totally focused on the text.
- Videos are often far too long. Sorry, but if your video is an hour long, then I can tell from that fact alone that either it is a Gish Gallop, or it takes far too long to get to the point, or it is trying to tackle a subject that is too complicated to address properly in video format anyway.
Videos have their place, and the points that they make may well be valid and correct. But they are best suited for entertainment or inspiration. They are less effective for education or information, and are simply not appropriate for online debate and discussion. If someone asks you to watch a video, ask them to provide you with a text-based alternative — a web page, a PDF or a PowerPoint presentation — instead. If they really don’t have any alternative other than a video, ask them to summarise it and provide timestamps. Your time is valuable. Don’t let other people dictate how you spend it.