How listening to constant noise has helped millions focus

How listening to constant noise has helped millions focus

Who among us is not frustratingly familiar with the constant struggle between putting off tasks that require focus, and being drawn to a distraction like a moth to a flame?

Sometimes we blame ourselves, insulting our tendency to procrastinate. But we must give ourselves a break. We live in an unprecedented age where billions of dollars have been made by machines designed to lure us away from doing what we planned to do.

These ideas are not new. But something happened recently, which – ironically – has captured little attention and offered me a glimmer of hope that the Internet that has reconnected our minds can also be used to untangle them.

Last month, YouTube abruptly suspended Lofi Girl, a live music broadcast that had been broadcast uninterrupted for 20,843 hours – over two years – that had amassed 660 million views in the process. The removal was due to a false copyright claim and was subsequently invalidated. But the popularity of Lofi Girl was such that her fans were briefly deprived.

why? Lofi Girl is a running playlist of “lofi beats”, set to an animated video of a student working at her desk. Lofi (low fidelity) beats are soft, soundless hip-hop beats that are optimized to generate calm and focus. The student’s portraits, by Colombian artist Juan Pablo Machado, are also vital to the canal’s purpose. As the day passes into the night, the cityscape changes, a cat waits for its tail, and Lofi Girl continues to write as the rhythm continues.

For Emma Winston, an ethnomusicologist at University College London who has studied Lofi Girl, her appeal is that she is “comfortable, serene and often designed to look symmetrical and aged, as if from an earlier era she may or may not have existed.” Central to the channel’s functionality, she says, is a chat window alongside the video where users leave positive comments to each other “You got this,” a rarity on sites like YouTube. “It can provide a sense of companionship, but it’s very low pressure – you can enjoy the music completely alone, and no one needs to know you’re there, but you can still feel the co-existence with others somewhere.”

Winston noted that while many genres of music thrive on the Internet, lofi beats are, uniquely, a genre created due to the Internet to answer the cravings of those who, like me, are not looking for silence but peace. “There’s very little going on in the vocal range that we associate with excitement,” says Reed Arvin, a Nashville-based record producer. “We call this range ‘bright’. Lofi Girl’s music isn’t just soft music, it’s acoustically calm.”

And the way Lofi Girl dismisses some of the underlying mechanisms that underpin Big Tech’s business models is nice too. Its constant operation deprives YouTube of any moments when new content and advertisements are introduced designed to send users into the so-called rabbit hole. Winston likened the stream to a “fixed point” in a content storm that demands our attention from all sides.

Lofi Girl also offers a more satisfying answer to suggestions that we should simply ignore digital distractions. Salt Lake City fan Tyler Locke says the effect the internet has on our minds is that interruptions can only be “turned on” if something else is “turned on.”

“We keep ourselves busy with stimulation…to the point that our brains start to lose the ability to get bored,” Locke says. “streams [like Lofi Girl] Allowing us to stay connected to digital stimulation while still getting some work done.”

Dave Lee, Financial Times reporter in San Francisco

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