Who among us isn’t sadly familiar with the constant tug-of-war between putting off tasks that require focus and, like a moth to a flame, being drawn to distraction?
Sometimes we blame ourselves, cursing our tendency to procrastinate. But we should give ourselves a break. We live in an unprecedented era in which billions of dollars have been generated by machines designed to entice us to stop doing what we had planned to do.
These thoughts are not new. But something happened recently that ironically got a lot of attention and gave me a glimmer of hope that the internet, which has rewired our minds, could also be used to untangle them.
Last month, YouTube abruptly discontinued Lofi Girl, a live music stream that had been streaming non-stop for some 20,843 hours over two years, amassing 660 million views in the process. The removal was due to a false copyright claim and was later reversed. But such is the popularity of Lofi Girl that her fans were, briefly, robbed.
Why? Lofi Girl is a non-stop playlist of “lofi beats”, set to a video animation of a female student working at her desk. Lofi (Low Fidelity) beats are smooth hip-hop beats without vocals, optimized for calm and focus. The images of the student, made by Colombian artist Juan Pablo Machado, are also vital to the purpose of the channel. As day turns into night, the cityscape changes, a cat wags its tail, and Lofi Girl continues to write as the beat progresses.
For Emma Winston, an ethnomusicologist at the University of London who has studied Lofi Girl, its appeal is that it is “cozy and relaxing and often designed to sound analog and aged, as if it’s from a bygone era that may or may not have changed.” really existed. She says the centerpiece of the channel’s feature is a chat window next to the video where users leave positive “you-got-this” comments for each other, which is rare on sites like YouTube. “That can offer a sense of togetherness, but it’s very low pressure: you can enjoy music completely alone, no one needs to know you’re there, but you can still feel co-present with others in a space.”
Winston has observed that while many types of music thrive on the internet, lofi beats is just a genre created by the internet to cater to the cravings of those like me who seek not silence but peace. “Very little happens in the sonic range that we associate with emotion,” says Reed Arvin, a Nashville-based record producer. “We call that range ‘bright.’ Lofi Girl’s music isn’t just musically smooth, it’s sonically smooth.”
Also bland is the way Lofi Girl rejects some of the core mechanisms underpinning Big Tech’s business models. Her continued playing deprives YouTube of any time in which to deliver new content and ads designed to send users to the call. rabbit hole. Winston likens streaming to “a still point” in the storm of content that demands our attention from all sides.
Lofi Girl also provides a more satisfying response to suggestions that we should just ignore digital distractions. Tyler Lok, a fan from Salt Lake City, says that the effect of the Internet on our minds is that interruptions can only be “turned off” if something else is “on.”
“We constantly deal with stimulation … to the point where our brains start to lose the ability to get bored,” says Lok. “currents [like Lofi Girl] let us stay connected to digital stimulation and still get some work done.”
Dave Lee is a correspondent for the FT in San Francisco
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