"We're looking at how to push users into passive-consumption mode, a lean-back experience." -Jamie Davidson, YouTube product manager, reported in the Sunday Times Business section, May 30, 2010.
The article explained YouTube's envy of television, saying that "Although the average user spends 15 minutes a day on YouTube, that's tiny compared to the five hours a day people spend watching TV."
How best to combat this obvious and terrible YouTube viewing crisis? They have narrowed the problem down to the fact that since YouTube videos are so brief, it continuously forces viewers into a difficult choice point: one video ends, and the user has to consciously decide whether or not to click on another one, or to get on with their day. The brilliant solution the YouTube folks have arrived at is to introduce a brand new website this fall, "YouTube Leanback," which will finally eliminate all those pesky moments of choice we are all burdened with by providing a continuous viewing experience, with one video automatically starting as soon as the previous one ends, effectively ending all the searching, browsing and clicking annoyances that we have all had to put up with thus far.
The goal, presumably, is to have us sit back in our Barcaloungers, turn on YouTube, grab a bag of Cheetos and a six-pack, and apart from nature calling, not have to get up, move our cursors or click on another link for a minimum of five hours. They also intend to mimic the way television works by having videos begin playing the very instant you enter YouTube Leanback's site, much like turning on a television, so you don't even have to choose where to begin. Just settle back everyone, and take it all in. How easy is that?
I know you'll agree with me, and Davidson, that this is all VERY good news. I personally am sick and tired of having to devote all that mental energy deciding which two and a half minute amateur video to watch: should I commit myself to viewing someone's cat flushing a toilet over and over again, or search around for that rare performance of Lady Gaga when she was still an NYU student, dressed and performing like a nice, normal singer-songwriter with some actual talent? No more such quandaries. I am so thankful that YouTube is on the case.
My only concern, of course, is whether this additional five hours of viewing time will be added onto or replace my daily five hours of television input? If it is an addition, I'll be up to 10 hours a day of what Davidson calls "lean-back mode." Thank God my self-employed writer's lifestyle can accommodate this vigorous schedule. I figure if I can get myself going on YouTube by, at the latest, one in the afternoon, after my morning writing session, it will spit me out the other end at six pm, in time to quickly cook up a frozen burrito in the microwave and head up to the TV room; if I add a half hour in there for food prep and a bathroom break, it works out perfectly to end my viewing day with The Daily Show in the 11-11:30 pm half-hour slot.
Sorry Colbert, at that point I need to get to bed, maybe read a little, sleep from midnight to 8, allow an hour in the morning for coffee, breakfast, perusing the New York Times online, add in another hour for my morning bicycle/exercise regime, a half hour to shower and dress, about a half-hour to return phone calls, and that settles me comfortably into my writing chair for my days' work by 11 am sharp. I generally break for lunch at noon, take some time to deal with emails and Facebook updates, and by 1 pm I'll be ready to settle into my five-hour YouTube marathon. Thankfully, my wife seems willing to make the bed and spiff up the bathroom, but I'm in charge of taking out the garbage and recycling which can sometimes throw my whole schedule off.
But these are incidental concerns. To think I used to rail against the "passive-consumption" culture, thinking we were becoming a nation of couch potatoes being spoon-fed pablum in the guise of entertainment and news while never proactively taking matters into our own creative hands. And all it took was a simple re-branding: it's no longer "passive-consumption"; it's now the "lean-back" experience, and seriously, tell me, who among us doesn't truly revel in a good, old-fashioned lean-back?
So thank you Jamie Davidson and all the creative folks at YouTube for thinking all this through on my behalf. Who knows me better than you do? Left to my own devices, God knows, I'd have up to 10 hours a day to fill with completely meaningless activities, like interacting with loved ones (highly overrated), playing musical instruments -- like that's not a complete waste of time! -- reading books (that is SO 2009!), or worst of all, just hanging out in nature for the simple joy of it (talk about being non-productive). There is an ideal solution, of course, and thankfully our latest technologies -- the iPhone, iPad, iWatch, iVegetate, iDon'tDoNuthin' and similar gizmos -- now allow us to get out into nature WITHOUT sacrificing our continuous YouTube viewing time. In fact, just last week, I took a beautiful walk along the beach, while watching a gorgeous video of waves crashing on the shoreline. The photography was so exquisite, it was like you were practically there! I immediately Twittered my friends about it, posted the video on my Facebook page, and headed back home to settle into my Barcolounger for the evening's entertainment: a new Reality Show, entitled, "The Guy Who Missed Out on Reality."
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