Watch a Mesmerizing Stream of Unwatched YouTube Videos: Lets You Discover the Hidden Dimensions of the World’s Largest Video Platform

When times are hard, it often helps to zoom out for a moment—in search of a wider per­spec­tive, his­tor­i­cal con­text, the for­est full of trees…, an algo­rith­mic YouTube-based project by Andrew Wong and James Thomp­son, offers a big pic­ture that’s as restora­tive as it is odd:

Today, you are an Astro­naut. You are float­ing in inner space 100 miles above the sur­face of Earth. You peer through your win­dow and this is what you see.

If the stars look very dif­fer­ent today, it’s because they’re human, though not the kind who are prone to attract­ing the paparazzi. Rather, Astro­naut is pop­u­lat­ed by ordi­nary cit­i­zens, with occa­sion­al appear­ances by pets, wildlife, video game char­ac­ters, and hous­es, both inte­ri­or and exte­ri­or.

Launch Astro­naut, and you will be bear­ing pas­sive wit­ness to a parade of unevent­ful, unti­tled home video excerpts.

The expe­ri­ence is the oppo­site of earth­shak­ing.

And that is by design.

As Wong told Wired’s Liz Stin­son:

There’s this metaphor of being on a train …you see things out the win­dow and think, ‘Oh what is that?’ but it’s too late, it’s already gone by. Not let­ting some­one go too deep is pret­ty impor­tant.

After some tri­al and error on Twit­ter, where video con­tent rarely favors the rest­ful, Wong and Thomp­son real­ized that the sort of mate­r­i­al they sought resided on YouTube. Per­haps it’s been reflex­ive­ly dumped by users with no par­tic­u­lar pas­sion for what they’ve record­ed. Or the account is a new one, its own­er just begin­ning to fig­ure out how to post con­tent.

The videos on any giv­en Astro­naut jour­ney earn their place by virtue of gener­ic, cam­era-assigned file names (IMG 0034, MOV 0005, DSC 0165…), zero views, and an upload with­in the last week.

The over­all effect is one of mes­mer­iz­ing, unre­mark­able life going on whether it’s observed or not.

Chil­dren per­form in their liv­ing room

A woman assem­bles a bride’s bou­quet

A kit­ten bats a toy

A pre-fab home is moved into place

The vision is heart­warm­ing­ly glob­al.

Astro­naut is anti-star, but there are some fre­quent sight­ings, owing to the num­ber of name­less incon­se­quen­tial videos any one user uploads.

This week a Viet­namese fash­ion­ista, a karaoke space in Argenti­na, and a box­ing ring in Mon­tre­al make mul­ti­ple appear­ances, as do some very tired look­ing teach­ers.

The effect is most sooth­ing when you allow it to wash over you unim­ped­ed, but there is a red but­ton below the frame, if you feel com­pelled to linger with­in a cer­tain scene.

(You can also click on what­ev­er pass­es for the video’s title in the upper left cor­ner to open it on YouTube, from whence you might be able to suss out a bit more infor­ma­tion.)

A very young Super Mario fan has appar­ent­ly col­o­nized a parent’s account for his nar­rat­ed gam­ing videos.

Halfway around the world, a for­mal­ly dressed man sits behind a desk pri­or to his first-ever upload.

Some gift­ed dancers fail to rotate pri­or to upload­ing.

A recent­ly acquired night vision wildlife cam has already cap­tured a num­ber of coy­otes.

And every­one who comes through the door of a Chi­nese house­hold adores the hap­py baby with­in.

It’s unclear if the algo­rithm will alight on any cell phone footage doc­u­ment­ing the shock­ing scenes at recent protests sparked by the death of George Floyd. Per­haps not, giv­en the urgency to share such videos, titling them to clue view­ers in to the what, who, where, when, and why.

For now Astro­naut appears to be the same floaty trip Jake Swearin­gen described in a 2017 arti­cle for New York Mag­a­zine:

The inter­net is a place that often rewards the shock­ing, the sad, the rage-induc­ing — or the naked­ly ambi­tious and atten­tion-seek­ing. A morn­ing of watch­ing is an anti­dote to all that.

Begin your explo­rations with Astro­naut here.

h/t to read­er Tom Hedrick

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Playlist of Songs to Get You Through Hard Times: Stream 20 Tracks from the Alan Lomax Col­lec­tion

Sooth­ing, Uplift­ing Resources for Par­ents & Care­givers Stressed by the COVID-19 Cri­sis

An Art Gallery for Ger­bils: Two Quar­an­tined Lon­don­ers Cre­ate a Mini Muse­um Com­plete with Ger­bil-Themed Art

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Every day since March 15, she has uploaded a set of 10 micrhvi­sions of social­ly dis­tanced New York City. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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