This is part of an occasional series looking at defining Internet trends in specific years.
Fall deep enough into any YouTube rabbit hole, and you might find the following: a version of a popular video that some helpful user has looped over and over so that it lasts for 10 hours. I am partial to loops of animated cats. Others might prefer video game themes, or, um, this.
By 2016, 10-hour videos have fallen a bit out of favor, sitting on the verge of obsolete: It’s simply too easy at this point to make a video, sound and all, that loops infinitely.
But in 2011, when it appears that the first 10-hour video was uploaded, they were a suddenly new possibility for most YouTube users, previously limited to posting only shorter clips.
YouTube was founded in 2005, allowing users to upload and share videos of up to 100 MB. In 2006, YouTube also imposed a 10 minute limit on videos for most users, after determining that most videos going on for longer than that — a minuscule percentage of YouTube videos at the time — were unauthorized postings of copyrighted material, like movies and TV shows.
In each instance, the Internet responded to these new limitations in the way that it does, with jokes and mild trolling. Before the 10-hour loops, there were the 10- and 15-minute loops, sometimes quaintly labeled as “insanity loops.”
In 2011, a user named Teh1ppe discovered that YouTube’s length limit had quietly and dramatically increased for their account, so they celebrated by uploading 10 hours of Nyan Cat, which had just recently made its Internet debut as a three-and-a-half minute video. According to Know Your Meme, that Nyan Cat loop is the first 10-hour video. It went viral, which led to more 10-hour loops, copycat 10-hour loopers, and challenges where people would film themselves watching 10 hours of something, and then upload all 10 hours of that footage.
The “10 hour challenge” also produced its own cottage industry of faked “proof” videos, which themselves appear to use looping and other tricks to artistically extend their length.
“Some of this is about the excess of the loop — a one-hour version of a 30-second clip is a lot to begin with, but why go with that when you could use the 10-hour version? — and then it’s a demonstration of endurance and personal clout,” said Tim Highfield, an academic researcher who studies social media and digital culture.
His personal favorite 10-hour videos are the ones that loop seamlessly, so you can’t tell where the clip begins or ends. In particular, a loop of a mashup of “Bacon Pancakes” from “Adventure Time” and the song “Empire State of Mind.”
Like many 10-hour videos, this glorious thing is itself kind of a remix of an existing popular video on the Internet. “Bacon Pancakes” began its second life as a clip taken from “Adventure Time,” and then someone looped that clip. “But also it gets mashed up with ‘Empire State of Mind,’ ” Highfield said, “This mashup then gets looped to 10 minutes; this then gets extended to 10 hours — while the original song, too, gets 10-minute and 10-hour versions.”
After Highfield and I chatted by email, I kept this video open and running for the rest of the work day, in the background. I wasn’t even watching the video; it was just the repetitive sound that I needed.
“It creates a mesmerizing soundtrack,” Highfield said, “essentially a digital culture version of ambient music: Set the loop going and there’s no real idea of time passing, it’s the same clip over and over again.”
The 10-hour video might be toward the end of its Internet life, but endlessly looping the inane thrived before the form (remember “Hamster Dance”?), and will continue to thrive even if the 10-hour loop disappears.
Besides, the original 10-hour video has since been one-upped, making it only the second-best Nyan Cat-specific endurance test: Nyan Cat 10 Hours was shortly followed by Nyan Cat Forever, which makes enduring Nyan Cat into a game, and appears to never ever end.
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