|Jeff Dunham with his puppet Achmed, the Dead Terrorist
|A still from Charlie bit My Finger — Again
Ive wanted to work from home for as long as I remember. And now that I do, I see that like just about everything else in life, imagination is sweeter than reality.
On the upside, it means freedom from a time and energy-sapping daily commute, more space to think and breathe, the leeway to take a break instead of pretending to work even at moments when you have nothing to do, no lingering coffee breaks with friends to keep you longer in the office.
It also means solitude even when you dont want it, guilt whenever you do take a break, no coffee breaks with friends to help you unwind. During the busy times, it is not hard to stay on track, but when the pace is more relaxed, focus can be a challenge. And with no boss to keep you motivated (read: watch over your shoulder), this can be the biggest problem of all. Especially with distractions, distractions, distractions where you least expect them.
A friend who had been working from home for years once told me that you know you are in trouble when you are grabbing a snooze post lunch and waking up only to watch the daytime weepies on TV. As a general rule, I agree with this, but since siestas and soaps arent exactly my scene, I face dangers from a rather different source, and it is a particularly problematic one, as it makes sitting in front of the computer no better than vegging out on the couch with the remote. Its a little thing called YouTube.
I would have thought that the greatest perils of the Internet would be Facebook and online chat, but I have found these to be so disruptive on a daily basis that I largely avoid them. By comparison, checking out a few videos in reasonable doses doesnt feel as much like goofing off (especially since no one really need know about it).
To avoid this trap, a work-at-home blogger suggested using a dinosaur of a laptop without wireless, and steering clear of any plug-in Internet connections you may have to ensure that you are essentially working on a glorified typewriter. With no way to connect, he pointed out, you cant possibly spend all of your time watching cat videos on YouTube.
There I found my valuable takeaway from the article: as soon as I had finished reading I began my search for said feline videos. And before I knew it, I had been sucked into a vortex of mind-altering cuteness.
It all started with Surprised Kitty (Original). The video stars a tiny grey kitten with white paws, which keeps throwing its limbs out as it has its belly scratched. The video has had 50,219,986 views, giving Garfield some serious competition. No wonder there are imposters.
I soon was going from one furry video to the next till I saw the link to Harry Potter Pals: The Mysterious Ticking Noise (105 million views). I lost no time clicking. Even a loyalist like me could appreciate the appeal of this spoof of the Hogwarts universe in which Harry is a bit of a bully and Voldemort blows everyone up with a pipe bomb. And the fact that the creator hasnt been sued into oblivion by J.K. Rowling or Warner Bros implies that they see the humour in it, too.
Then it was onto another Harry, a real boy this time, and his baby brother Charlie, in the web phenomenon that is Charlie Bit My Finger — Again. The most popular user-generated video of all time on the site features two children sitting in a chair. The older one sticks his finger into the little ones mouth. He gets bitten. Ouch, Charlie, screams Harry, that hurt! Then he does it again. To be fair, it is very cute, and if you are spending all your energy procrastinating on your latest deadline, again, it can seem extremely entertaining indeed. And it is safe to say that with 351,318,053 views for its 56 seconds, Im not the only one putting off work. The Hahaha infant, a baby with a funny laugh, just cant compete with its paltry 190,500,000 views.
But enough, I said to myself, was enough. From kittens I had moved to Harry Potter puppets and then onto babies. My resolve was rapidly unravelling and it was time to put my head down for some slog time.
After a while, however, almost without my knowing it, my browser — somehow — redirected to the YouTube homepage. And there I found a whole list of videos, just for me. It was clear that someone had put a great deal of thought into the matter, just like when you mistype something in Google and it returns with a suggestion: Did you mean — it asks. And you throw your hands up at the genius of it all. Yes, yes, you exclaim, but how did you know?
Because I had watched the Surprised Kitty (Original), the YouTube gods had recommended Sneezing Panda (just shy of 108 million views). And once I had finished with that excellent snippet of a tiny creature in black and white giving vent to an explosive sneeze travelling at a speed previously unknown to pandas, I was directed to the Very Angry Cat (57 million views), which I found to be not amusing in the least.
Yet it was not enough to put me off. Like an addict in search of a bit of cuddly fun or mildly annoying comedy, I wandered aimlessly for a while from clip to clip before I discovered a list of the most popular videos. None of the days pop picks appealed to me, so I ended up exploring the most viral videos of all time. It read like the Billboard Hot 100, further proof that the MTV generation has now been supplanted by the YouTube generation. Justin Bieber, Eminem, Lady Gaga, Shakira, Miley Cyrus. It should surprise no one that Biebers Baby ft. Ludacris is the most watched video on the site of all time, logging 583,234,400 views. Though the fact that it has 749,002 likes and twice the number of dislikes (1,531,986) should also tell us a thing or two.
Coming in at fifth place, interrupting all that rock star sex appeal, was Charlies finger-biting escapade. The highest ranked video (136,814,050 views) that I had seen before was Achmed the Dead Terrorist. Borderline racist but hilarious, it is a stand-up routine featuring Jeff Dunham, a ventriloquist, and his puppet Achmed, the skeletal remains of a rather ineffective turbaned suicide bomber.
Then I was shocked to discover that there is a whole world of people who are huge celebrities online whom I had never even heard of. Chief among these is Ray William Johnson, the man behind YouTubes most subscribed channel, whose many videos have registered a cumulative 1,124,516,001 views. That is correct: well over one billion. He shot to fame by featuring YouTube videos that he believes will go viral, and often, a Ray recommendation makes this a self-fulfilling prophecy. He states very clearly on his page that he is not interested in being on TV. And why would he be, when millions are already hanging on every word that comes out of his mouth?
It was when Johnson was studying law that he took a, er, YouTurn. I found myself watching YouTube videos during study breaks, wrote Johnson in an interview with Forbes. That prompted him to start a (now defunct) channel. He has since gone from about 30 to over 4,000,000 subscribers with his vlog Equals Three, and has allegedly become YouTubes first millionaire.
Perhaps I could use this case study in defence of my latest pastime: what if I too was destined to start a YouTube-based business that will make me rich and impossibly famous?
But since people havent yet offered to pay me to watch ticklish kitties do their thing, I wont waste my breath. Instead, its off to work I go.
The Indian at Large lives in Shanghai, China, and can be reached at theindianatlarge @gmail.com