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WEIRD & WONDERFUL WEBCAMS

17.10.20

A very fishy trend has surfaced since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic: a surge in webcam usage. 


It’s no surprise that webcam usage went through the roof as employees around the globe settled into their new working-from-home routines, but this is something quite different. The views in question were for live streams from Monterey Bay Aquarium, California.

Since the aquarium closed to the public in March, visits to its website have tripled year-on-year. With ten webcams to choose from including sea otters, jellyfish and penguins (“Shark Cam” is my favourite!), Monterey Bay has found a way to connect with the outside world – and receive much-needed donations in the process.


Georgia Aquarium also got in on the act, reporting a 3,000% increase in daily traffic to their 6.3 million-gallon whale shark tunnel webcam when lockdown began in mid-March.


Tourist webcams are nothing new - Monterey Bay’s first one was installed way back in 2001 - but the recent surge in demand points to more than just a remedy for boredom. Engaging with underwater live streams is also thought to be a great stress reliever - something I’m sure we could all benefit from right now.


A 2018 review of the restorative role of aquariums (also referenced in an interesting article by The Guardian) offers further context:


“In today’s increasingly stressful world, quick and easy access to restorative environments that promote positive emotions and help reduce stress may be essential, especially for people who have few, if any, chances to engage with the natural world.”


It doesn’t take a scientist to join the dots.


For many of us, the “stressful” world of 2018 would feel like a spa break in comparison to this year. If watching sardines swirl through gently swaying kelp canopies was considered a useful self-care tool then, it should be made mandatory now... Honey, don’t forget your packed lunch today. Oh, and remember you have 15 minutes of Coral Reef Cam to catch up on before you tackle that inbox…


But if Aquarium Cams don’t float your boat, there are plenty of other options to sink your teeth into…


How about vampire hunting in the Old Town of Brașov? In the historical region of Transylvania and surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains, Brașov is dotted with distinctly European architecture that would even leave Dracula thirsty for more. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a bat or two.


If you always preferred Jacob to Edward – or aren’t a tween and just think wolves are cool – then the live stream from New York’s Wolf Conversation Center is worth a watch. You’ll have your pick of the pack – from Red Wolves Tyke & Lava, to Mexican Gray Wolves Valentia & Diego – but you may also have a wait on your hands. Despite various visits to the site, I’m yet to catch a glimpse but I’m sure it’s all part of the fun. It beats watching paint dry after a weekend of DIY, after all!


In an article covering weird and wonderful live streams, Thrillist.com suggest a “treat yo’ self” moment that I hadn’t contemplated before – and never will again:


"Africam features a number of live cams you can choose from, all trained on different wildlife watering holes and other hotspots in South Africa. Bliss out to scenes of wild dogs tearing apart a hippo carcass. You’ve earned it."


I’d rather take the deserted wolf enclosures, thank you very much.


The full article is well worth a read, if only for a chuckle about some of the wacky ideas featured. Forget Apple’s “there’s an app for that” slogan – “There’s a webcam for that” is far more appropriate for today’s audience. From interacting with a Bubble Machine in South Florida, to hunting for Nessie in Scotland, you could easily while away an afternoon without leaving your favourite armchair.

If you prefer a more “active” live stream, then EarthCam is for you. Zooming in on 5th Avenue, New York City, you can spend a fun five minutes watching yellow cab drivers grow impatient with shopping-laden pedestrians trundling across the road. 


And if that’s not enough road rage for you, why not check out Abbey Road Cam?  I’d happily spend an hour or so watching tourists replicate John, Paul, George and Ringo as the queue of cars either side of the zebra crossing grows longer by the minute. It takes a very brave person to remove their socks and shoes during rush hour…


One of the strangest examples I’ve come across is a website called Drivemeinsane.com. It’s certifiably bonkers. Utilising home automation, the owner of the website invites users to “drive him insane” by remotely controlling a multitude of lamps in his office. The “Why?!?!?” section of his site makes for interesting reading, but I was struck most by the closing paragraphs:


"So where am I going with all this? Why would I want to subject myself to all this? Partially, its just the entertainment factor. Yours AND mine. Its lots of fun. However, I've always looked at this home automation project as something that others might find useful in the future. Home automation is still mostly a hobby because people don't really feel the need to control all their appliances by computer when its just as easy to do so manually. There's no advantage there. But how many times were you away from home and you wish you could turn on some lights because you'll be home late?"


He continues:


"You CAN control your lights… As long as you're near a computer with internet access, you'll have control of your house. No matter where you are in the world. This website is here to provide a demonstration of those capabilities. And sure, its fun to screw around with someone else's stuff, but remember, you could do the very same things with your own stuff. Perhaps this isn't useful. But you never know. Someday, it might be."


He’s not wrong. And whilst his website may seem a little outdated now (the webcam was first set up in 1997!), there are real world benefits to sharing knowledge in this manner. Controlling someone’s lights in Texas from anywhere in the world is just the hook. The site itself would have been a treasure trove of information in years gone by. I love that the site is still live – perfectly frozen in time.


When you’ve had enough of webcams, I’d highly recommend WayBack Machine for a healthy dose of nostalgia. More than 468 billion web pages have been archived over time. Simply input your website of choice, select a date and you’re away… 


Curious how the first UK Black Friday event appeared on Amazon.co.uk? See for yourself. How about when Apple launched the first iPhone back in 2007? It’s certainly not the slick, seamless website we’re used to seeing today, but does feel reassuringly familiar. I can’t imagine many will look back on 2020 with the same fondness…