Living Through YouTube How-To Videos A silver lining of social distancing: you may have more time and space to pursue the projects you've bookmarked on your web browser. Whether your goal is to build a barn door or to update your makeup routine, online tutorials have made it easier than ever to bring the world into your living room or kitchen or bedroom. But a curious thing can happen when we watch experts doing expert things. This week, we explore the dangers and the delights of vicarious living, with a favorite episode from 2019.

Close Enough: The Lure of Living Through Others

Close Enough: Living Through Others

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Alex Maxim/Getty Images/All Canada Photos
Woman using a laptop computer in darkness with her hands illuminated by the computer screen isolated on black background
Alex Maxim/Getty Images/All Canada Photos

It has never been so easy to bring the world into our living rooms and kitchens and bedrooms. And the world that enters our lives has never looked better.

It used to be that if you wanted to feel what it was like to do something, you had to go out and do it. If your dream was to see the Grand Canyon from a raft, you'd head to the river. If you wanted to gaze up close at the Mona Lisa, you'd go to Paris. But something in our culture has changed. Now, as we sit on the couch and eat take-out, we watch kitchen virtuosos whip up gourmet meals from scratch. And then, we watch other people eat meals — there's a popular genre on YouTube where you just watch other people binge eat.

These other lives we've come to inhabit can seem more beautiful, more exciting, more satisfying than anything in our actual lives. They come in multiple camera angles, with all the boring parts spliced out, and all the recipe ingredients pre-chopped in those little prep bowls. This week on Hidden Brain, we explore the delights — and the dangers — of living vicariously.

Additional resources:

"Easier Seen Than Done: Merely Watching Others Perform Can Foster an Illusion of Skill Acquisition," by Michael Kardas and Ed O'Brien

"Vicarious Consumption: Food, Television and the Ambiguity of Modernity," by Pauline Adema

"Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch," by Michael Pollan for The New York Times

The Official YouTube Channel of Bob Ross