4-hour YouTube video about the Star Wars hotel has more views than you might think: NPR

Time is sinking, they are changing. Above, a woman checks the alarm clocks in a London clock factory in 1946.

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This week, as YouTuber Jenny Nicholson review/eulogy for the closed Disney Star Wars hotel started making the rounds, I was curious. Of course I had heard of the official name 'immersive experience' Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, and here was someone who had actually gone through the, um, experience. But then I saw the running time of the video: four hours and five minutes! – and I closed the tab faster than if the algorithm wanted to show me some loser trying to pick up a cobra.

Who has the time, I wondered, to spend half the workday watching YouTube? Is this the age of TikTok? And rolling? And what, we have all been repeatedly assured, is a time when attention spans are shrinking?

In the case of Nicholson's Starcruiser video, millions and millions of people have the time, it turns out. And she's not alone: ​​In recent years, you may have noticed YouTube suggesting you videos that were so long Lawrence of Arabia seem downright spicy.


The spectacular failure of the Star Wars Hotel
YouTube

In my feed, most of these take the form of disturbingly deep – and often critical – dives into various aspects of nerdy pop culture. “That Internet D&D show we all used to love now sucks, and here's three hours of proof!” “That New Movie Everyone Loves Sucks, and Here Are 63 Reasons Why!” “Here's a recap of the series that only you and I are watching, and the 43 glaring continuity errors it overlooked!”

It's not hard to understand why this happens. After all, nerds are going to be nerds. We love what we love, and we're willing to corner you at a party, maybe over onion dip, and talk to you (OK: bee u) about all our concerns about this. Of considerable length. (Why, yes, us Doing notice you staring pleadingly over our shoulders for someone, anyone, to save you; we just don't care because it really is interesting thing about Buffy Season 4 that most people overlook is…..) And of course, YouTube's monetization model rewards every precious minute you can spend with those lovely eyeballs of yours. Passion + profit motive is a powerful motivator; these videos will keep coming.

Or, if you really believe in the marketplace of ideas, maybe not. After all, most of these lengthy complaint videos aren't nearly worth the time commitment they require, and spending so many hours watching such sustained negativity leaves you feeling covered in a kind of psychological dirt, a residue of greasy cynicism. I should note that Nicholson's Starcruiser video is a glaring exception – she's passionate, yes, but admirably clear-eyed about that passion. She makes her points (her many, many, a lot of points) with equanimity and humor, and she has the literal receipts. She is also quick to praise those aspects of the experience that are worth praising, and cleverly addresses the issue of value for money.

But there's no denying that a shift is happening. TikTok itself – that online forge in which memes are spoofed and hammered – is launching longer videosand mr. Beast, perhaps the ultimate YouTuber, has recently started publishing longer videos based, he says, on the viewer's question.

Now I? I'm so old I remember thinking a 13 minute music video was downright bold. And I admit: I actually didn't watch the Starcruiser video, I listened to it while driving to and from town for a movie screening. But I do watch several actually play D&D YouTube shows, sometimes longer than four hours. And in the early years I would happily sink endless hours into reading smart, well-written TV reports they might as well have been novellas. Is there a substantive difference?

But I choose to be encouraged by the rise of long-form video. Or more specifically: by people's willingness to watch one video for hours. It suggests that the quality of work still matters; After all, you still have to earn all those extra minutes of our attention. And in a culture so quick to blame a range of social ills on shrinking attention spans, it offers a surprising and intriguing counternarrative to the experts who cite audience data to dictate exactly how long a YouTube video, or a web article, or a podcast episode “should” be.

Turns out the answer isn't quantitative, it's qualitative – not precise length, but personal value.

This piece also appeared in NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter so you don't miss the next one, and get weekly recommendations on what makes us happy.

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