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Business News/ Mint-lounge / Features/  Would you watch 18 hours of salmon fishing?

Would you watch 18 hours of salmon fishing?

Netflix thinks you will. Media may have taken so much of a hold that we now need it as a backdrop even for introspection and imagination

Slow TV, a Norwegian television series, shows real-time videos of routine activities. Premium
Slow TV, a Norwegian television series, shows real-time videos of routine activities.

As kilometres of flat fields streamed past the car window, I’d look for raised objects by the side of the road—milestones, boulders or broken pieces of fence—and imagine myself jumping from one to another. I’d do this for hours during long road trips back when I was an adolescent. My imagined self would take quick strides between a row of boulders that were close together and then leap and hang in the air when there wasn’t something to land on for a distance. Sometimes, he’d have to wait so long he’d start descending before suddenly developing the ability to fly. Up, down, up, up, wait, down, up. It was riveting, yet soothing.

This is, perhaps, what the makers of Slow TV, a Norwegian television series, want you to experience when you watch their long, real-time videos of routine activities. The show has now been picked up by Netflix and will be available on the streaming site from 5 August—it is on Netflix India too.

Slow TV’s first episode, aired in November 2009 by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, was a seven-hour long video taken in real time of a train journey from Bergen to Oslo. Nothing happens in the episode. You just see the scenery change slowly as the train moves along, watch people get on and off at stations and wait for a glimpse of light when the train is in a tunnel. It seemed like an elaborate prank, a comment perhaps on how anything could pass for a television show these days. But 20% of Norway’s population watched it.

When a five-day journey aboard a cruise ship was filmed minute-for-minute, the entire country was hooked. People prepared banners and stood at locations the ship would be passing, so they could be part of the show. Social media was filled with updates on the voyage. And half the 5 million people in Norway tuned in at one point or another. Other Slow TV episodes include a 12-hour-long documentation of people knitting and 18 hours of real-time salmon fishing.

Clearly, Netflix’s research indicates the show’s popularity could be more than just a Norwegian phenomenon. Its appeal, according to Thomas Hellum, one of its producers, is that because it does not force a story on you, you end up creating stories from the images. In a 2014 Ted Talk, he showed the audience an image of a countryside house that was on screen for 10 whole minutes during one of Slow TV’s shows. “When you keep it that long, some of you start wondering, is the farmer at home? Has he left?...Where is that cow going?" he explained.

It is an attempt at a return to reflection, introspection and slowness in a time when media has become so integrated with our lives that our own thoughts have to slip themselves in quickly before the next gruesome murder appears on the screens we are glued to. Our stream of consciousness has been reduced to dots of self-awareness at intervals on a steam of media. The irony is that it would seem we now need media as a backdrop even when we want to be alone with our thoughts. We no longer look out the window on long car journeys, building fantasies from boulders and milestones, letting the events that have excited, scared and hurt us rumble in our minds and shape the way the environment appears to us. So we need a screen to take us on a slow train journey, hoping it can recreate the same experience.

One 76-year-old man was so hooked to Slow TV’s train journey episode that at the last station, he rose from his seat to get his luggage before bumping his head into the curtain rod and realizing he was in his own living room. If you manage to watch one of Slow TV’s shows with such dedication, it could turn out to be a meditative and enriching experience.

There is a less optimistic reason, however, people may be watching Slow TV. These days, when I want to relax, I hate to admit that I often switch on a long debate or speech I’ve already watched on YouTube. It has to be one I’ve watched before; I want to rest and not take in more information. But I’m too restless to lie down on the couch and stare at the fan; my body is buzzing from constant exposure to media; I need a screen. So I watch a video that doesn’t really have my attention. Then my fingers itch and I open another window to play a dull computer game. Now I’m listening to the debate and playing mechanically while my mind is on neither. Then I’m checking my email, and browsing the Internet to search for books by the writer I’m suddenly thinking of. The video continues to play; the game is on pause.

It would be easy for Slow TV to slot into this melee—just another piece of media that we’re letting run in the background while our minds are struggling to calm themselves. An hour of men cutting firewood as white noise while we check our social media feeds and worry about how our careers aren’t going as well as everyone else’s; two hours of knitting streaming while we are Whatsapping a friend because we’re too embarrassed to admit we’re setting aside time to have a conversation. The duller the media the better, for we don’t really want to engage with it; we just need it there.

Even if Slow TV does have its desired effect, of quietening people’s minds and sparking their imaginations, it is depressing to think we need a television show to do this. I fear that Slow TV will become a massive hit and then will begin making slow virtual reality experiences and then customized slow virtual reality experiences, until one day I’ll be sitting with a headset on watching cars cruise by and tress sway in the breeze when someone sends me a message telling me this has all been one giant social experiment and what I’ve been watching for the past three hours is the view from my own window.

You can watch Slow TV’s documentaries on Netflix India, here.

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Published: 05 Aug 2016, 04:38 PM IST
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