Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
Welcome to the real Netflix and chill.
What’s the most mind-numbing televisual experience you can think of? Seemingly endless footage of riders whizzing past during the Tour de France? Four hours watching the wedding video of an internationally obscure Spanish royal? Or maybe a long, visually minimal lecture on Quantum Theory? All of these and more feature on Napflix, a new website put together by two Spanish developers whose curated content aims to be as soporific as possible. (Check out a gripping, ‘60s-era documentary about Tupperware, above.)
The site sells itself as “siesta video platform”—a channel whose content is so banal that it either lulls the viewer into peaceful, semi-hypnosis or renders them unconscious. The idea really isn’t such a bad one. We may tend to view falling unconscious in front of a screen as a sign that someone’s daily routine is hitting them too hard, but there’s actually some evidence doing so can actually improve your sleep quality.
While some of Napflix’s video choices are pure trolling—I don’t see what’s so sleep-inducing about a documentary on Einstein, or Terence Malick’s Tree of Life—there’s still something useful going on here. Many people are attracted by the idea of (increasingly popular) ASMR videos as a way of switching off the brain and relaxing. When it comes to trying them out, however, some are understandably spooked by a soundtrack of mouse-like scratching and creepily intimate sweet-nothings whispered by a stranger. Napflix offers funnier and less disconcerting alternatives to classic ASMR footage—still soothing but
Some of the videos aim no further than this, being designed to straightforwardly trigger relaxation with soft repetitive sounds such as waterfalls or cars splashing through rain. And while footage of someone fiddling with an old stamp collection doesn’t sound particularly soothing, the delicate rasping sounds as tweezers remove each stamp from its pocket is a more organic equivalent of classic ASMR scratching.
Elsewhere, the channel comes across more of a satirical celebration of banality as seen through the eyes of its creators. Are they fair? Call me a curmudgeon, but I’m completely at one with their idea of presenting an eight-hour British cricket match as the height of soporific inanity. Still, I’m not sure Luciano Pavarotti would be thrilled to see his 1981 San Francisco production of Verdi’s Aida presented as a sleep aid.
The soporific videos are as much a symptom of something as its cure. Napflix is just the latest addition to a cultural wave of products and experiences that seek to shelter users from media overload. Norway’s Slow Television trend (which has included such delights as a 24/7 livestream of birds feeding in a doll’s house) placed relaxation over stoking viewers’ interest. Meanwhile, millions of internet users have been curating their own versions of this audiovisual catnip for years, in the endless, undying popularity of cat videos that have been shown to be correlated with decreased anxiety. Napflix is really trying the same trick—helping people to step out of the loop of constant media stimulation by, er, using media.
This makes sense. When images, information, and strong opinions are instantly available to you wherever you go, it can be a relief to find something that’s the audiovisual equivalent of plain, unsalted gruel. But for people old enough to remember pre-internet days, however, it suggests something more exasperating. Many of us have already become so overly media-connected that we have forgotten how to make our own fun. Napflix’s arrival suggests this phenomenon has gone one step further: Nowadays, some of us can’t even make our own boredom without media assistance.