The Joy of Screens

A whizzy, well designed introductory graphic, some public domain music, and a great deal of home produced cartoony images. A voice introduces, first, themselves, and then the topic of the day. An advert interrupts the flow from time to time. The tone is welcoming, rather than scholarly, and the style is refreshingly unprofessional. Unprofessional in a heartening way; this is not corporate land.

A sponsor’s banner, followed by a professionally created introduction, crashes in to a panel of good, honest people, looking for a chat; that the chat falls apart in to banter and soul-searching is all well and good in this forum for the nerdy. The news of the day is broken down and discussed, tangents are taken and enjoyed. After a while, the chatter ends and everyone goes back to their day jobs.

A man sits in his kitchen in his family home. He is holding a guitar. He trots out his usual phrases and gestures before getting swiftly down to business. He is here to pass on his knowledge, and he really wants you to learn. He is warm, he is encouraging, and he really wants you to buy one of his shiny guitars. Or a guitar strap. He will help you to learn and he will help you to love your instrument.

I never got in to podcasts; I didn’t really understand how they worked. I had colleagues who could sit and listen to endless Ricky Gervais podcasts while doing their job, and not miss a beat. If I’m listening to something I want it to be music. I love music, and need it with me always. Music lets me listen to something with only half of my mind while the other half is diligently hard at work. Speech does not.

I have always thought that if I were to listen to people, or if I were to watch a video of people, then I would need to give it my full attention, or I would get lost. On the other hand, if I did give the people sufficient attention to understand them, then I would not be able to do anything well. So I thought.

What I have found, and what I have increasingly got in to, are YouTube videos; especially YouTube videos where the people are familiar to me from repeated viewings. Familiarity breeds not just a degree of contempt, but also a great deal of comfort. Being comfortable with the people I listen to makes it far easier for me to let them sink in to the back of my mind. It’s like speed reading, but with the ears. In a way that I can never half listen to the radio, I can easily half listen to a YouTube video.

OK, so if I can concentrate on writing or cooking while half-watching / half-listening to a video, it must mean that the video is pretty unengaging. There is a truth in that, and some of the travel lists I watch are quite low impact. Most YouTubers are relative amateurs, so they take a bit of time to get round to making their point. Repetition is an absolute god-send when it comes to only half-listening.

Jump cuts and relatively jarring edits are common in even my most favourite videos, but they rarely take anything away from the content. Mark Wolters of Wolters World fills his videos with so much valuable information, and in such a helpful tone, that his jumpy cuts and his fuzzy photos only add to the joy of it all. The same applies to Rob Chapman’s guitar videos. I recommend both men highly.

On the other hand, some people are trying to get so much information in to their videos that they have to run at a thousand miles an hour. These videos, while brilliant, have to be concentrated on or not watched at all. In the former category I would always put Geography Now! –their videos are so informative, but they cannot be half-watched. I won’t mention any videos you shouldn’t watch.

My go to YouTube channel is Screen Junkies News, an off-shoot of Screen Junkies. They are a helpful, informative group of channels which I find endlessly entertaining. They have gone from combative nerds arguing about minutiae to a collaborative community of like-minded souls, revelling in media.

When Screen Junkies came back from their sexual misconduct scandal they did something superb: they put Roth Cornet front and centre. Roth is the Editor-in-Chief of Screen Junkies News, and is one of the newer faces to the channel; her depth of knowledge shines through, and she leads her panels with an equal amount of wit and joyful irreverence. That said, when she takes a day off, and Mr Joe Starr takes the reins, everything falls apart brilliantly, completely distracting me from my breakfast.

The gateway in to Screen Junkies to me was Honest Trailers. Honest Trailers take apart a film or a TV series for comedic effect. They revel in the absurdity of poor films, and they wear their geek hearts on their sleeves. They are film lovers first and foremost, but they are so funny while they rip films to shreds. Dan Murrell’s love of British TV, including Bake Off and Grand Designs is utterly infectious.

I have to confess that my big YouTube obsession is LangFocus, written, produced and presented by the inimitable Paul. Paul is a Canadian man, who I believe lives in Japan, and he has a mastery of language which I find delightful. The channel started with Paul documenting his mission to learn the Tagalog language, but it has evolved in to an encyclopedia of the world’s languages and language families, all contained in one convenient place. Paul occasionally reviews language learning tools.

Paul is clearly a deep student of language, because the language he uses tends towards the scholarly – that said, his style is far from academic or bookish, and he can explain very tricky concepts, such as the need for Kanji in Japanese or the concept of ergativity, very accessibly. I suppose that’s the chief reason I keep going back to Paul’s videos; I want to know about the world we live in and the ways in which we communicate, and he tells me about it in a fun way that I find very easy to understand.

Not all videos are made equal, however. As much as people like Paul, Mark Wolters, and the Screen Junkies people come from a place of joy; some come from a place of hate and fear. So I avoid them.