What did we even do before YouTube? It's a service that can serve any purpose, from proving your point about whether Han shot first to collecting cute pet videos into 10-minute compilations to remixing The Simpsons with ASMR-y trance tracks. For about half of us, YouTube takes us somewhere we probably never thought we'd be again: school.
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New data from the Pew Research Center shows that 51 percent of YouTube users, themselves a majority of Americans, say the site is very important when it comes to learning and understanding new skills or information. While "passing the time" is also a high-ranking response, especially among younger users, 54 percent said YouTube helped them make purchasing decisions. Given how many children are keyed into the site and use it daily, this will probably only get more entrenched as a habit.
YouTube as free library has a million and one obvious benefits. If you need to learn how to fix a broken toilet handle, understand complex sociopolitical histories, figure out how mitosis really works, or teach your dog that snoot challenge trick, it's a one-stop shop. (Although Pew did find that YouTube's algorithm recommends longer and longer videos with each recommendation.) It's also a place that requires a lot of editorial judgment. YouTube's content isn't vetted the way a university course's material is, and misinformation is always just around the corner. It's a tremendous free resource, but it's always worth staying alert and skeptical — online, you definitely get what you pay for.