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I like to watch, continued

MORE: The best of the rest - Six must-see video blogs. BY MIKE MILIARD


A new, tech-savvy generation is keying in to the new medium early on. Phil Hamilton, a 16-year-old junior at Wellesley High, has been maintaining his own video blog, Phil Hamilton Hits the Big Time, since last March. Itís a goof, in a way. Clips are seldom longer than a minute or two, and he didnít even let people know about it until August. But its adolescent sensibility is funny and smart, and its camera work is skilled. People are noticing.

"A girl just IM-ed me yesterday saying she found it on the Web somehow," Hamilton says.

So video blogging is a good way to meet chicks?

"Uh, no. Not really."

But who wouldnít be charmed by Phil goofily celebrating the arrival of spring in his parentsí backyard? Or Phil rebuffing his momís demand to put on his seat belt? Or Phil procrastinating a paper on David Mamet? Or Phil mugging for the camera: "Yeah, I got homework! I looove homework! Golly gee! Homework is the best!" But sometimes, this high-school junior stops being sophomoric and throws you for a loop, as when he captures the quiet beauty of the seasonís first snow, scoring artful shots of the softly falling flakes with choral music.

Hamilton isnít picky about what he videotapes ó "just whatever, really" ó but heís wary of becoming too popular. That might lead him to update more often than he ordinarily would, sacrificing quality for quantity. "Iím afraid that if everyoneís watching it Iíll either feel pressure or it will become too much of my own surroundings and wonít be interesting to other people."

Hamiltonís friend Josh Kopin has his own blog, What Is, started at Hamiltonís urging. He too has had trouble with creative blockage. In one clip, posted after nearly two months without updating, he stares into the camera and ó interspersed with footage of insects, Japanese cuisine, and a school play ó offers hope to others with "videobloggerís block."

In the time since you saw me last, I have done a lot of things. I went back to school, and I found a cricket, and I watched miso soup settle in reverse, and I got into a musical. But I havenít had a lot of time for video blogging. Because I didnít want to make a bad video. I just pressured myself into stopping. I wanted to turn my frustration into a lesson for other video bloggers.... So for all the aspiring video bloggers out there whoíve hit a wall like I did, just remember that itís not really about your audience, itís about you.

"Some people are energized by producing for people," Kopin says. "For me, itís almost strangling to know that people might not like what I do. That day, I decided to explain why I hadnít, and to encourage people. Blogging for me is pretty personal. The fact that people watch my videos and like them is almost like a bonus."

Kopin knows that his audience, even if it only consists of his friends and other video-blogging enthusiasts, likes to watch his stuff. So heíll keep filming himself beat-boxing, or demonstrating circular breathing with a glass of water, or building a rocket powered by baking soda and vinegar. (Soundtrack: William Shatnerís cover of Elton Johnís "Rocket Man." Of course.)

"In this world, you often feel that a lot of interactions with people are very impersonal," Kopin says. "To be able to peek into someone elseís life, see what theyíre interested in ó and show what youíre interested in too ó thatís something different."


Boston city councilor John Tobin recalls a tale from several years ago, when he was first running for office. An opponentís campaign had a Web site with audio capabilities. "We thought he was like a Martian," he says. But before long, Tobin found himself listening to the clips. And, lo and behold, "I thought, ĎThis guyís onto something!í"

Now Tobin is the trailblazer. Last spring, Steve Garfield, whoís one of Tobinís constituents, showed up at his office hours. He had an idea. "I said, ĎOh, no. Somebodyís pitching something thatís totally crazy and Iím never going to use,í" Tobin remembers. "But after I talked to him for an hour and a half, I was sold."

Tobin updates his blog with video entries filmed, edited, and posted by Garfield, every other week or so ó and every day in the week leading up to the last election. He goes on location to show the scourge of graffiti in Hyde Square. He checks out a sanctioned mural painted by the Mayorís Mural Crew. He visits the scene of the firebombed El Oriental de Cuba restaurant in JP, and then reports two months later from a benefit to get the place back up and running. He shows how the disused trolley tracks on Centre Street are a safety hazard, rather than just talking about it.

In this jam-packed media age, where TV forces politicians to get their message out in 15-second sound bites, and where local news channels cover City Hall and state legislature less and less, video blogging offers a cheap and substantive way for pols to communicate with their public. "People are tired of canned speeches," says Tobin. "To talk to the camera, unscripted, is a pretty unique way to get your point across." Thatís why heís convinced that, by the time the 2008 presidential election rolls around, every politician worth his salt will be vlogging. "Itís going to be mandatory. People are going to have to do it. Voters wonít accept that they donít have it."

A tireless advocate for the arts in the Hub ó and co-founder of the Boston International Comedy & Movie Festival ó Tobin might seem to be the pol most likely to adopt new video technology like this. But does he think some of his more hidebound council colleagues might soon be following suit? "If they were smart they would be. It just makes sense."


Still, the adoption of video blogging by the political establishment ó and surely, soon enough, by more and more big media ó is antithetical to its grassroots beginnings, in a way. As it proliferates more and more, one wonders whether vlogging might start to lose some of its populist appeal, that messy, personality-driven uniqueness that is its most salient feature, in favor of a more bland establishment imprimatur.

Phil Hamilton is wary. "I think, like, with the video iPod, itís definitely getting bigger," he says. "And I hope that it gets bigger. But Iím afraid that as it gets bigger it will just get glossed over."

Still, while weíll surely be seeing more and more sanitized and corporatized versions of the video blog as more and more companies recognize its quickness, cheapness, and ease of use, itís a safe bet it will stay a predominantly democratic medium. Look at text blogging: for every Washington Whispers or The Note, there are hundreds of independent, stridently opinionated voices out there.

When Steve Garfield looks ahead, he sees a further leveling of the playing field. And he canít wait. "People who are normally just passive consumers of video are gonna say, ĎWhoa, we can create it and we can get it out there the same way the big networks are getting it out.í Everything will be equal. There are no barriers to entry, of cost or distribution. Itís available to anybody. There are stories to be told. And there are a lot of stories out there."

Mike Miliard can be reached at mmiliard[a]phx.com.

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Issue Date: December 16 - 22, 2005
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