Watching alone, together.
Streaming videos in your room just got a whole lot less lonely.
Binging for hours on Netflix has long been an inherently isolating experience: You’re solo, it’s late, and you definitely should have gone to bed by now. It’s the ideal setup for introverts and people just generally afraid of the world, but it’s also possibly the fastest route to spending an unhealthy amount of time alone — Doritos dust piling on your chest like a neon monument to social anxiety.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Thankfully, the same tech that feeds our desire to stay in for the night (and the next night, and the next) can also be used to turn tumbling down a YouTube rabbit hole into a shared group adventure.
The ability to watch videos online in real time with friends and family has been around for years now, and programs like Watch2Gether make it easy to discuss the action on the screen. However, with chat rooms being the main way to communicate during a watch party, the process has always felt less like hanging out with friends and more like continuously checking Slack to make sure you’re not missing important work messages.
It kind of kills the buzz, in other words.
A good remote watch party takes work: Work to set up, and work from everyone involved to make it worthwhile. During the most exciting parts of streaming shows or goofy YouTube videos — those moments you’d want most to experience with others — friends and family are likely to be engrossed in the content and not typing their reactions.
Because let’s be real, no one is busy pounding out "OMG" when that 1-day-old baby goat starts learning to jump. They’re all too busy squeeing, and you’re too busy receding into your universe of auto-loading content for one.
Image: Tom Grill/Getty Images
A shared experience.
But just as technology taketh away, so can it give. The all-important selfie camera in particular changes the game here by presenting would-be digital recluses with more than just a chance to vomit rainbows.
Apps like Let’s Watch It, which was released April 12 and launches inside iMessage, take advantage of this opportunity. Let’s Watch It uses a phone’s forward-facing camera and microphone to capture the responses of people in your group as you all simultaneously view the same video via YouTubeLive, YouTube, or Twitch.
"We wanted it to approximate the shared experience that’s common for watching TV, movies, and other media together," Kris McDonald, the cofounder of Let’s Watch It developer Little Labs, wrote in an email. "When a football game is on, it’s more fun to have a group of friends yelling at the TV than to sit alone — we try to recreate that vibe through Let’s Watch It."
In other words, you can see your friends go slack jawed as a horse fights an alligator without ever leaving the comfort of your couch.
And while it’s obviously no replacement for that old fashioned human touch (seriously, you should still get out and interact in the meatspace), this digital approximation can help people connect with others even when all they feel like doing is vegging out at home.
This is a good thing for all the introverts of the world, and reminds us that watching videos by yourself doesn’t need to be the same as watching it alone.