Each month, the world watches 4 billion hours of YouTube video. And many people catch those clips during work breaks, while commuting or sneaking them in at the office.
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Before I started working at Mashable, I was probably still a significant contributor to this number. I don't sneak videos in between breaks at work, because I'm too busy sleeping, breathing and eating. (Plus, I think about YouTube videos for a living.) This is normally the part when someone jokes that I get paid to watch cat videos all day, but that is a myth that seriously needs to be debunked.
Let's say I spent 2.5 hours per work day watching YouTube videos. (It's a conservative number, believe it or not.) Over 52 weeks — give or take a couple days, so we'll say 245 — that would mean I spent 613 hours watching YouTube videos this year.
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That's 25.5 days, which means I spent nearly a month watching YouTube videos in 2012. I could have made multiple trips to the moon and back. Jogged in 82.5 marathons. Rode a rollercoaster 12,260 times.
For what it's worth, that doesn't even count the time spent writing about them, or the videos I watch on weekends or off the clock. (I cannot even begin to figure that out.)
The average person simply watches a video and consumes it — then maybe shares it, if the content is relevant, compelling or funny. I can't watch videos anymore without habitually considering a dozen things in the process.
One of the first things I check is its age and lifespan on the Internet. Is this video new? No one wants to be the last one to get the punchline. For example, if I tried to share Rebecca Black's "Friday" for the first time tomorrow, I'd be laughed off of the Internet.
It's also important that the video has legs. Would I actually share this — and if so, why? If I didn't get through the whole video or gain any entertainment or value out of it, there's a good chance others won't either.
YouTube videos often fall into trends. For example, yes, people like cat videos. But why? A close source at YouTube once told me the subject matter is universal. Cat and baby videos break the language barrier; it doesn't require knowing a specific language to enjoy and understand them.
Music often falls into that theory as well. The most current and obvious example is Korean pop artist Psy. The song "Gangnam Style" is a worldwide phenomenon, even though most people had no idea what it meant on first watch. Music videos and movies normally lead to another YouTube trend: an abundance of fan-made and professional parodies. Sometimes these can go on for months.
People have been watching funny videos (or plays) long before YouTube was even a nugget of thought. But just because we mostly commonly find and share videos online doesn't mean they're good. My sense of humor runs on the weirder side, so I normally have to ask myself, "Is this actually funny, or is it only hilarious because I'm delirious at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday?" An inside joke is only relevant among the people who get it. But you want the entire Internet to be in on the joke. (Be prepared to fail over and over again on this one; not everyone will agree with your wacky sense of humor.)
That's not to say it's all fun and games. Today, anyone with a phone can document a tragedy. I've seen some of the most sobering, heartbreaking things on YouTube. We watched a teen girl tell her last story before committing suicide, a bus monitor bullied by middle schoolers, a U.S. soldier survive Taliban firefight.
One of the most upsetting was the horrifying aftermath of the Aurora, Colo. shooting. Before police had even officially identified the suspect, people around the world had witnessed the event through a shaky, vertical iPhone recording uploaded to YouTube.
These stories can lead to justice and viral philanthropy, or the opposite. In September, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya was killed after a YouTube video sparked outrage over an anti-Islamic video.
But not every video serves a purpose. Much of the content isn't necessarily interesting, appropriate or relevant. There is a lot of weird, weird stuff on YouTube — not all of which is pornography or violent. (There are ways to block that kind of content.)
There are so many different kinds of videos. Viral clips bubble up from the depths of the Internet or even follow a news event.
Certain types of video may lead to a rabbit hole of research. Are there other videos like it? Who posted it? What is his or her story? What is the context? In the event of Sandy, a security video uploaded to YouTube confirmed the Con Ed plant had exploded. Viewers and those with power were informed of the accident quicker than had they waited for the company to release a statement.
That doesn't mean you'll always receive answers. Sometimes you're not even sure what you're looking for, or if you're looking for anything at all.
Anyone who's ever browsed through YouTube knows how tedious it can be to find anything. The site is cluttered. Plus, what used to be a social video site has transformed into an up and coming Internet cable company. There are so many channels filled with entertaining and valuable content, it can seem near impossible to sift through the best. How can one possibly organize so much content?
After all, users upload 72 hours of video every minute to YouTube. That's 72 hours of animals, historic moments, proposals, family bonding, pain, comedy, beauty tutorials, recipes, music and new life, all documented on YouTube.
And that's precisely the best thing about YouTube. Just when you think you've seen everything imaginable, another video shocks or tickles your very core.
It kind of makes you wish you really did just watch cat videos all day.
Illustration by Bob Al-Greene
1. Arthur Boorman's Transformation
Arthur Boorman was a disabled, overweight Gulf War veteran for 15 years. Over and over, doctors told him he'd never walk without the support of crutches again. On a bit of a whim, he joined a local yoga program, and ended up achieving what almost everyone had told him was impossible. Watch his story for yourself.
This story originally published on Mashable here.