The revolution will not be televised but who cares? It's already online, as a new wave of young 'YouTubers' threaten traditional TV with their sharp video blogs and direct interaction with their millions of mostly teenage fans.
The moment I realised I was middle-aged came at 4.25pm on a Monday a month or so ago. I was at the BFI on London's Southbank and had just watched a 15-minute documentary called Becoming YouTube, made by a young film-maker called Benjamin Cook. Cook, who has postbox-red hair and a painful-looking piercing in his lower lip, was now on stage in discussion with four fellow YouTubers, all in their early 20s. I had no idea who they were but I was in a minority of one. Among them, the five have almost 4m registered fans ('subscribers' to their YouTube channels) around the world, and millions more are intimately familiar with their work and lives. They came across not quite as rock stars; more like what I imagine would happen if Matt Smith turned up at a Doctor Who convention.
I played back in my head a section of Cook's film, which was clearly not aimed at someone in their mid-OK-late 30s like me. "You might have noticed that a lot of people… don't get YouTube," he said, staring down the camera lens. "Most people treat YouTube in the same way as they would a blocked toilet or Piers Morgan's TV career: they don't know how it happened or who's behind it but they figure it's probably just full of shit and they'll leave it for someone else to deal with."
Cook's lip curled into a sneer. "And in YouTube's case that's a shame. Or maybe it isn't. Because, for the time being at least, YouTube feels like our secret: we know that YouTube is a hub of raw untethered talent; a place we can engage, experiment and create in a way that TV – whatever that is – can only dream of."
I was beginning to feel I'd underestimated YouTube, and I'll bet I'm not the only one. The site features in most of our lives but only in a passive way: we go there to find the video of Nora the piano-playing cat, to track down Zlatan Ibrahimovic's wonder-goal or to watch Psy's "Gangnam Style" 1,488, 814,712 times. There might be gems on YouTube, but with 72 hours of video uploaded every minute, who has the time to hunt it down?