Astronaut: Fly Blind into the Video Universe

June 4, 2020

Like unwatched videos? Have a short attention span? We have a suggestion.

Astronaut.io. The service is an intriguing, if potentially bewildering, time killer. The site asks users to imagine they are astronauts, peering on people’s fleeting moments through the window. Then, against a view of Earth from space, they stream random, obscure YouTube videos in 10-second bites until one’s serendipity meter is full. In Wired’s piece, “Watch a Surprisingly Touching Stream of Unwatched YouTube Videos,” writer Liz Stinson explains:

“Scenes from a high school weight lifting competition might follow a birthday party in Texas that follows a man in Russia repairing his motorbike. You never know what to expect, yet the videos share something in common. Andrew Wong and James Thompson created an algorithm that seeks videos fitting specific criteria: uploaded within the past week, with generic file names (IMG, MOV WMV) as titles, and zero views. The result is a fascinating glimpse at the mundane, perplexing, and oftentimes sweet events of everyday life. … One video seamlessly follows another with no buffering. Wong coded three players into the website, allowing two videos to buffer as the third played. This creates a smooth vignette effect where you glean just a bit of context about each clip. Videos last no more than 10 seconds and often change just as you begin to care (a button at the bottom of the page lets you linger on a video). That can be frustrating, but ephemerality was key.”

Wong compares the effect to glimpsing images out a train window just long enough to pique one’s curiosity. Stinson observes that most makers of these untitled, little-viewed videos probably never expected anyone but their nearest and dearest to see them. She writes:

“The tension between the uneasiness of this benign voyeurism and the sensation of feeling connected to a stranger is what makes Astronaut.io so wonderful.”

Perhaps. It can certainly capture the attention. Check it out, and see if the poetic effect is for you.

Cynthia Murrell, June 4, 2020

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