News Flash: People are wasting a lot of time online. No, really, it's true.
While this may not be news to some of you (especially anyone with a "FarmVille" account), the sheer magnitude of the amount of wasted time may surprise even the most jaded among you.
Millions of hours, trillions of minutes, tens of thousands of years are being lost each month, down rabbit holes of psyche-numbing videos that distract us from the important things in life: work, family and bingeing on 10 straight hours of Homeland. There's nothing wrong with some good, mindless fun, but some of this stuff is beginning to lower our standards on what the concept of "entertainment" means.
Take the "Call Me Maybe" phenomenon. Hey, I admit I like the song -- it's so perky! What I find confounding, though, is there are more than 75,000 covers of this video. What started innocently enough with Justin Bieber's cover (50 million views) has become a cottage industry. The video has been covered by everyone from Star Wars (7 million views) to the U.S. Olympic Swim Team (9 million) to Barack Obama (27.5 million!) to something called Corgi Rae Jepson (2.6 million). Seriously? Does our society not have anything better to do with our time than to dream up tens of thousands of ever more ridiculous covers of a silly summer pop song? If each cover averaged just 2,000 views, we will have collectively spent a millennium (a.k.a. 10 centuries) watching "Call Me Maybe" covers. That's to say nothing of the hours of planning and work put into producing those things.
Even more disquieting is the video that replaced "Call Me Maybe" as the most watched in the world -- the deceptively hypnotic yet unbelievably moronic "Gangnam Style" by PSY. This unintelligible song and video has been viewed more than 280 MILLION TIMES. Despite the fact that few who have watched it know or care what the ridiculously impish PSY is actually saying -- we, the people of earth, have watched a combined 2,131 HUMAN YEARS of "Gangnam Style" in just the past two months. 21 centuries of Gangnam. Jesus has been dead for less time.
This does not count the countless parodies (The Oregon Duck: 4.4 million Views), homages (Chicago Style: 3.7 million) and Ellen Show Gangnam send-ups (27 million!) posted and watched on YouTube. Gangnam has quickly become a virtual epidemic, eating away at the brains of society faster than the zombies on The Walking Dead.
Luckily, for those of us with a bit of free time and more than 100 points of IQ, there is actually a ton of good video on the Internet to watch. In fact, there's plenty of stuff that is both entertaining and good for your mind (or at least not bad for it). Thanks in no small part to major investments by content aggregators and content portals, web video is currently experiencing a bit of a golden age. Every day, there are more and more smart people doing cool shit that doesn't melt your brain.
Luckily for you, I've compiled a list of such stuff.
Here then, are my Top 11 Web Videos That Help End WorldSuck
(NOTE: these are in no particular order other than how they appeared in my brain):
Dirty Signs With Kristin - Of all the ways to learn sign language, this is both the most adorable and dirtiest. In two videos each week, you will learn to say everything from "I didn't know they could pile shit that high" to "I want to take you to a gay bar" to "Santorum." Edu-tainment at its very, very best.
Soul Pancake - This YouTube Channel from the mind of Rainn Wilson is what I would think would happen if a vegan bakery truck and the Upright Citizens Brigade tour bus collided. With shows like Art Attack, Metaphysical Mondays and Subcultures, this comedy troupe-slash-video magazine-slash-acid trip gives you reason to believe the Internets can be used for good, not evil. Stuff THAT in your brain hole.
The Philip DeFranco Show - With more than 2 million subscribers, this channel, dedicated to "Newsytime Stuff and Things," is becoming one of the most influential news shows for those who don't like news. Don't believe me? Discovery networks (yeah, the TV company) bought the company behind DeFranco, Revision3, and used Philly to host the latest edition of Shark Week. The most impressive thing about DeFranco is how he addresses important, controversial and potentially dry topics, such as gun control, women's rights, and bullying, in between pop culture stories about Honey Boo Boo and weekly Sexytime segments. This seamless integration of good and good for you keeps the Young and The Ritalin tuned in, without lolling them to sleep while discussing many of the most relevant and complex issues of the day. This guy is a natural and (dare I say?) my early pick to lead the next generation of the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert/Bill Maher School of Topical Comedy. Get on board early.
RSA Animates - This is, IMHO, the most innovative video series on the World Wide Web. The RSA is the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. OK, ok, don't fall asleep. Among many things, the RSA stages events meant to discuss and address solutions to the world's most perplexing problems. At these events, they invite the award winning smarty-pants to give talks on their areas of expertise. On RSA Animates, they take these speeches and animate them in a cool, endlessly watchable way. Watch Daniel Pink's "What Motivates Us" or Dan Ariely's "The Truth About Dishonesty," and you'll understand what I mean. Not since School House Rock have I learned so much from a cartoon.
Al Jazeera English - I can no longer tolerate TV news (except The Daily Show and Colbert). Broadcast news is like watching Tales From The Crypt, and cable "news" is as informative as pro wrestling. I typically get my news from online sources wired through my Twitter feed, but even these have a distinctively slanted point of view. For a true worldview of events, few outlets are as unique or smartly executed as Al Jazeera English. Okay, this isn't the most flashy or entertaining channel on the Internet (TMZ it ain't), but with 70 bureaus on six continents, this channel is really kicks ass for breaking news around the planet. Their coverage of the Libyan consulate attacks was far more informed and accurate than their U.S. counterparts and their nine-month investigation on the death of Yasser Arafat did something TV news hasn't done in a long while -- it broke news.
WIGS - As far as I can tell, this is the ONLY online channel that specializes in high end scripted drama (they also have short films and docs). All of the pieces star female leads, but before you write this off as Lifetime 2.0, consider that their series star talent as Maura Tierney, America Ferarra, Rosanna Arquette, Catherine O'Hara and Alison Pill. The writing and acting are good -- not web good, just really good. And as a fan of these awesome actresses, it's great to find a place where they get to flex their muscles without having to play damsels in distress.
Big Think - Big ideas are not always easy to digest. But the short videos on the Big Think Channel from a diverse community of big thinkers from Margaret Cho (on mentorship) and Baratunde Thurston (on bacon) to Penn Jillette (on Atheism) and Clay Johnson (on information obesity) to Michio Kaku (on dinosaurs) and Kadam Morten Clausen (on Buddhism) are not too long or short, too simple or too complex -- they're just right. They are clean, smart and infinitely digestible info snacks, perfect for the free time when the mind wanders and wonders.
VlogBrothers - This is the YouTube channel of Hank and John Green, dedicated entirely to the celebration, collaboration, education and procreation of NerdFighters. NerdFighters are not people who fight Nerds, but are, in fact, self proclaimed Nerds in a constant battle with "WorldSuck." Beyond having their own, totally invented vocabulary of things like French the Llama and the aforementioned NerdFighters, this network of shows and series is a crash course in all things interesting. Hank runs the website EcoGeek and John is an award-winning author. Strangely enough, these two incredibly smart, amazingly pale (they're almost transparent) and terribly nerdy guys make some of the most entertaining video blogs on the Internets. They make me laugh out loud and teach me at least one new thing in every single video. With VlogBrothers, the Greens have created a vibrant multimedia destination for a constantly surprisingly creative community of NerdFighters. Plus, they gave us the word WorldSuck.
Ask a Grown Man on Rookie Magazine - RookieMag.com is the unpredictably awesome online fashion magazine run by teen phenom Tavi Gevinson. Ok, the site is for teenage girls -- but since I am the father of two such young women, it's not creepy that I know about it (ok, not totally creepy). If you want to know anything about the complex minds of the people who will someday run the world, this is a great place to find out. Plus the pieces -- about everything from David Sedaris to Pussy Riot -- are not just for girls. ANYWAY... my favorite part of the site is the video series, Ask A Grown Man, where real famous adult guys answer real questions from real teenage women. It's, well, awesomesauce. The episode with Danny Pudi is genius.
TedTalks - TED Conferences are the Coachella of Smart. The world's smartest people get 18 minutes to talk about whatever they want, and many other people pay as much as seven grand to watch -- like Eyes Wide Shut for braniacs. But even if you don't have a spare $7K, YOU can see the best of TED, without getting up from your futon. These videos are what Al Gore had in mind when he invented the Internet. They are entertaining (the "comedy" talks are some of the best), educational (if you want to see why Stephen Hawking is the smartest guy on earth, watch his talk) and, frankly, the very best of what the World Wide Web is. The only bad thing about the TEDTalks Channel is that before you know it, you'll have lost hours of your day watching them. Lost, but not wasted.
BFD: Brain Food Daily - This is a new show, launching this week on the TakePartTV YouTube channel. BFD looks at the stories that the mainstream Internets ignore -- from the longest drought in 60 years to the civil right issues raised by condoms in porn -- and does so with a mix of irony, irreverence and potty humor. If 60 Minutes was 57 minutes shorter and got high, it'd be BFD.
Yes, the web has spawned countless dark alleys and time-wasting cul-de-sacs like "FarmVille" and Justin Bieber that threaten to turn many of us into mindless servants of the Matrix. But I am here to tell you that the Internet can also be used for good. More excellent sites and channels like those above are springing up every day. In fact, I'm sure I've missed dozens if not thousands that you know about and use. Feel free to post links in the comments below.
The point is that spending time doesn't have to mean wasting it. The web is as deep as it is wide, and it's just as valuable as you make it.
Follow Evan Shapiro on Twitter: www.twitter.com/eshap