by Ryan Ricks
Over winter break, I engaged myself in activities most normal teenagers partake in when given an extended away from school. Sleeping, working, spending time with family and friends. Oh, and I cleaned out all 257 videos on my YouTube watch later.
It was a grueling process, spanning me over a week. However, it was as painful as it was educational. Through this process, I’ve learned valuable lessons, which I will share with you all today.
Lesson 1: You can be your own worst enemy
One of the reasons cleaning out my watch later was so agonizing was because I kept adding new videos. The YouTube recommendation algorithm is a dangerous thing. Removing videos from the watch later felt like battling a hydra. I’d delete one video, and two more would come back in its place, fresh from my personal recommendations.
It was difficult, but eventually I learned not to add every video that had that shiny “new” tag on it. For me, the best way to win against myself was to learn some impulse control. YouTube may have catered to my desires for new content, but it was up to me to not give in to that temptation.
To anyone out there struggling with the recommendation feed, I’m here to tell you, you can do it. You can say no.
Lesson 2: Sometimes you have to deal with the unknown
Here’s a story: once upon a time I was going through my watch later. As I moved down the list, I reached a video with a gray thumbnail. “Deleted video” was the title. I was curious. What was this video? Why is it deleted? Why did I add it in the first place? I was stuck on that video for a while, trying to figure out a way to even see the old thumbnail or something. I didn’t find a way, of course. But the important thing to note is that I spent entirely too much time focusing on that video.
This wasn’t a fairytale. It was a very real, and very serious reality. There were many videos like this, with their titles ranging from “deleted video” to “private video,” all with the same painfully neutral gray thumbnail. Having hundreds of videos in my watch later folder, I had no hope of remembering what these videos about, even what their titles were. And I would probably never know.
To delete these videos, I had to be okay with the unknown. I would never know the content of these videos, and I had to be okay with that fact. Another way of saying this, I suppose, is that you can’t dwell on the possibilities, only on what is actually there. Yes, it was possible that the former video was an amazing video that would have changed my life. But, the fact was that the video was unavailable, and I had a folder to clean out.
The key tip to take away here is to not go on an hours-long hunt for that one thing that you just couldn’t find. Sure, YouTube makes it easy, with ever-present search bar and a simple-to-use interface, but you can’t fall into the trap. To stay focused, I had to be content with not knowing, and you will too.
Lesson 3: Organization is key
One of the reasons my watch later list was so ridiculously long was because I’d put videos there that I liked or wanted to watch again.
Obviously, this was a horrible system.
Honestly, this was probably the simplest lesson learned. Using my tried-and-true micromanaging and compartmentalizing skills, I made about 5-6 new playlists to categorize my videos. So even though my video-watching activity goes up, and more unwatched videos are simply given new categories, everything is worth it because my watch later stays squeaky clean!
Lesson 4: YouTube is Mean
Okay, this needs to be said. When you’re trying to get rid of all these interesting videos, the last thing you need is YouTube shoving more amazing videos in their face. The comments found in every unique video with over a million views don’t like, YouTube’s recommendation algorithm is weird! And it is ruthless.
I know I already said this in Lesson 1, but I’ll say it again. In this quest to remove all of my watch later videos, I added at least 50 more through the recommendation side panel alone.
YouTube knows what it is doing. Why else is it so easy to add a video to watch later? You simply have to click a little box in the right-hand corner of a thumbnail. There’s nothing more simple than that. And that’s what makes it deadly.
So, yes, YouTube is mean. It’s surprising, I know. This site whose sole purpose is to earn money through increasing traffic draws viewers in using addictive methods. But I digress. Clearly no megacorporation such as YouTube can partake in any shady business practices. Besides, this article is about cleaning out my watch later, not the ethics of corporations. Perhaps looking at a few oddly satisfying cake decorating videos will help me hone my focus again…
Lesson 5: I’ve Been Sucked Into the Youtube Black Hole, Please Send Help
I may have stopped following a little bit of my own advice. Enough to add another 103 videos to my watch later at least. I know what you’re thinking, reading this. But don’t blame me! I’m a scroller, I browse through the comments when watching videos. As I move down the discussions, those little thumbnails follow me relentlessly.
All this tells me is that even the most determined of us, those of us with one goal in mind, the goal to watch one video, no more, are all doomed to fail. At this point, countless hours of my time have been lost to the algorithm. It’s pointless to try and stop it anymore. I open YouTube up to its home page and there they are, hundreds of videos tailored just to me. How can I say no to that? How can anyone say no to that?
It’s high time we accepted our YouTube overlords.