ukulele small and forceful
brave and peaceful
you can play the ukulele too it is painfully simple
play your ukulele badly, play your ukulele loudly
ukulele banish evil
ukulele save the people
– Amanda Palmer
There’s a lot of hype around about the Internet’s inherently liberatory effects on society, because of its tendency to support decentralised, collaborative actions*. This is based on the notion that the Internet, like other technologies, has particular affordances: it encourages or facilitates certain behaviours while discouraging others. It’s also useful to think about the Internet as being part of an ecology of interconnected parts, including other technologies. As the Internet is developed, it is built on existing systems (including social norms), and contributes to the development of the system as a whole, changing our culture and other technologies at the same time as it is shaped by them.
One of the technologies that the Internet has influenced is the ukulele. Ukuleles seem to have been around since the 1880s, but their use has exploded over the last couple of years. One sign of this is the vast increase in Web search interest since about 2010.
I’m not quite sure what lead to this increase, although a few viral videos certainly seem to be a factor. But then, there has to be interest for people to spread videos. (Any sociologists/historians/anthropologists out there who’d like to write about this with me?)
The Internet enhances many the existing affordances of ukuleles. Ukuleles are portable, they’re cheap and relatively easy to learn. Ukuleles facilitate, but do not guarantee, ways of relating to each other that are more about community and participation, and less about consumption. Ukuleles are also already a technology that’s broadly accessible, even for the marginalised (video via George Darroch):
The Internet adds to this: it makes it easier to learn ukulele, to share your music, to find an audience for your band. Technologies gain their value in relation to other technologies, as well through the social and political structures that surround them. Ukuleles have become a more broadly-adopted technology because there are people and communities that are finding uses for their affordances.
you can play the ukulele, too
in london and down under
play joan jett, and play jacques brel
and eminem and neutral milk hotel
the children crush the hatred
play your ukulele naked
and if anybody tries to steal your ukulele, let them take it
* Which is problematic in many ways, not least the tendency to underplay the less-progressive uses of the Internet (including its use in surveillance of activists and others) and the lack of recognition that the Internet is also a contested technology.