The other night, while drunk-reading Twitter before bed, I stumbled onto Wired’s extensive video series with President Obama. He guest edited the November issue, dubbed the “Frontiers Issue,” a part of which included an extended sit-down with editor-in-chief Scott Dadich and MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito.
The interview is fascinating and, more importantly, incredibly soothing. Obama, in his slow and dulcet tones, expounded knowledgeably upon complex subjects like machine learning and late capitalist labour relations and, you know, other things of future import. Truthfully, I don’t really remember what happened. I was asleep in minutes. It was like a double dose of Nyquil, an Ambien without the morning grog.
I do this often. Usually it’s with a few episodes of The Office or New Girl, television which is familiar and innocuous. The goal is to shut off my brain long enough for the initial stages of sleep to crash over me. It requires stimulation at a near subliminal level. Selection is important. Too much verve or gusto or too many camera cuts and the whole process is ruined. Above all, the media cannot be interesting.
So here comes Napflix, a new bedtime streaming service that literally wants to bore you to sleep. It’s a curated list of boring YouTube videos: the 1992 Tour De France, Swan Lake, a lesson on how to speak Klingon, the World Chess Championships. It is incredible and beautiful, and kind of messed up.
Napflix has generated a lot of “ha ha, isn’t this quirky?” kind of news coverage in the last few weeks. This is a clip from the Today Show talking about it. There’s lots of hyucks and guffaws here, and at one point Al Roker jokes that he can’t even read anymore. Hah!
So, obviously, this is something we all do. I can’t help but think about how fucked up all this is though, like somehow I’ve broken my brain. Douglas Coupland once wrote that “[i]n the same way you can never go backward to a slower computer, you can never go backward to a lessened state of connectedness.”
Is this just the level of stimulus that my brain is hooked on? Did video games really ruin my life?
I have memories of my mom falling asleep to whatever network TV shows she watched in the ’90s, and that seems so wholesome. I go on Facebook now and watch two seconds of a Tasty video and three seconds of a New York Times video and no seconds of a Mic video. Each one feels like its resetting something in my brain.
It reminds me of this Louis C.K. clip from Conan:
“Because underneath everything in your life there’s that thing, that empty, that ‘forever empty.’ You know what I’m talking about? Just that knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you’re alone.”
One of the guys who created Napflix is a bigwig at Havas Media, a global advertising agency, and just thinking about the number of godawful RE:RE:RE:RE:FWD:RE: email chains he’s on makes my head want to explode. No wonder he wants to shut his brain up.
And I am the same way. I fall asleep like this because it feels good. It works for me. It also, I think, really messes with my mental state. As Louis says: “You never feel completely sad or completely happy. You just feel kind of satisfied with your products. And then you die.” And I feel that. I feel really kind of satisfied rewatching seasons 2-5 of The Office for the 10,000th time. But damn, that just kind of sucks. All I want to be is a person, you know? How do I do that?