How listening to uninterrupted noise has helped millions of people focus

How listening to uninterrupted noise has helped millions of people focus

Who among us isn’t sadly familiar with the constant tug of war between postponing tasks that require focus and, like a moth to a flame, drawn in by distraction?

Sometimes we blame ourselves, cursing our tendency to procrastinate. But we should give ourselves a break. We live in unprecedented times where billions of dollars have been generated by machines designed to trick us into not doing what we set out to do.

These thoughts are not new. But something happened recently that – ironically – grabbed my attention and gave me a glimmer of hope that the internet that rewired our minds could also be used to untangle them.

Last month, YouTube suddenly suspended Lofi Girl, a live music stream that aired uninterrupted for some 20,843 hours, or more than two years, racking up 660 million views in the process. The takedown was due to a false copyright claim and was later reversed. But Lofi Girl’s popularity is such that her fans were briefly deprived of it.

Why? Lofi Girl is a non-stop playlist of “lofi beats”, set to a video animation of a student working at her desk. Lofi (Low Fidelity) Beats are smooth, voiceless hip-hop beats, optimized to engender calm and focus. The images of the student, by Colombian artist Juan Pablo Machado, are also key to the channel’s focus. As day fades to night, the cityscape changes, a cat wags its tail, and Lofi Girl continues to write to the beat.

For Emma Winston, an ethnomusicologist at the University of London who has studied Lofi Girl, its appeal is that it’s “comfortable and soothing and often designed to sound analog and aged, as if it’s from a bygone era that may or may not to have actually existed. At the center of the channel’s feature, she says, is a chat window next to the video where users leave each other positive “you got it” comments, which is rare on sites like YouTube. “It can provide a sense of camaraderie, but it’s very low pressure – you can enjoy the music completely alone, no one needs to know you’re there, but you can still feel co-present with people. others in a space.”

Winston observed that while many types of music thrive on the Internet, lofi beats is, uniquely, a genre created through the Internet to cater to those, like me, who seek not silence but peace. “There’s very little happening in the sonic range that we associate with excitement,” says Reed Arvin, a Nashville-based record producer. “We call this beach ‘bright’. Lofi Girl’s music isn’t just musically sweet, it’s sonically sweet.

Lofi Girl’s way of dismissing some of the core mechanics that underpin Big Tech’s business models is also sweet. Its continued play robs YouTube of any time to deliver new content and ads designed to send users down the so-called rabbit hole. Winston compares the stream to “a fixed point” in the storm of content that demands our attention from all sides.

Lofi Girl also provides a more satisfying answer to suggestions that we should just ignore digital distractions. Tyler Lok, a fan from Salt Lake City, says the effect of the internet on our minds is that interrupts can’t be turned off unless something else is “on.”

“We’re constantly dealing with stimulation…to the point that our brain starts losing the ability to get bored,” Lok explains. “Streams [like Lofi Girl] allow us to stay connected to digital stimulation while continuing to work. »

Dave Lee is a correspondent for the FT in San Francisco

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