Debate Videos: A Question of "Access"

Here's a recent email response I gave on the subject of videotaping debates, addressed to someone who asked me to remove a debate they were in that they didn't care for their performance.

I have placed your video in privacy stasis - nobody can see it at all, and I hope you'll test that to make sure that I've secured it properly. It will stay hidden forever, unless I show it to an entry-level debate course at my University in New York - about 20 people or so a year.

I understand your concern to control your appearances online. A popular sentiment. But I'd like to point out just exactly who you are asking to control from access to your performance.

The video as of today has 572 hits since it was put up in 2009, almost all from the US and Canada. I think this represents the total audience for the video, since in the past week it has only received 8.

I think most people interested in seeing the video have seen it, as far as people looking for you or how you did. I bet most of the audience represented here would have been in the room if they could have been. Those who weren't were probably restricted by work or school commitments or maybe something else. This video allows (allowed, I think they've done it) them to see something they would have seen anyway. 

More importantly, about once every couple of months I get an email from the developing world - India, Africa, someplace like that - thanking me for hosting these videos. Apparently they get the videos from internet cafes, download them, and use them in rural areas to train young debaters in how to speak well. Tournament performances like the one you gave and the access and ability to do them, we take for granted. This video, and the others like it that I host here, represent a level of pedagogical access that even 10 years ago people thought was a good element in a science fiction story. 

As far as future employers finding it, which is a common concern among debaters who don't like to be taped, I highly doubt debating will achieve that much relevance to be a real threat. If they did find it, they'd probably be astounded that students do this sort of thing. Why our community chooses to fly under the radar is always a mystery to me. 

So I'll keep the video out of the public eye until I hear from you again. I'm sure everyone who wanted to see it has seen it, and as for those who haven't seen it yet - the people who really do need access to these videos - I'll let you decide about them.

Best Wishes, Steve

What I left out is the argument I've previously made on this blog that the presence of a video camera helps debates become more realistic - the fear of discovery of the performance motivates more realistic argumentation. However given my arguments here, perhaps I'm not terribly convinced of that, and more convinced of the idea that privileged folks with time and access to debate should perhaps see videos as a way of contributing something to the rhetorically undeveloped world - a phrase that although disturbing, would include the U.S. I doubt it will be persuasive, but perhaps over the long term debaters will consider videotaped debates in this manner.