Watching YouTube Without YouTube Watching Me

One setting which breaks (fixes) YouTube

Dave shutting down HAL in 2001

I was messing about and I changed one setting that both breaks and fixes YouTube. If you turn off Watch History (buried in, under Data & Privacy), the algorithm just stops working. It breaks the user experience so much that the Home page just goes blank. A blissful nothing. Nothing to tempt or distract you, no recommendations. It's incredibly boring and thus quite liberating.

You can still watch videos, but the videos can't watch you. YouTube cannot glean that you're the type of person who will watch every available clip from Succession without ever watching the show. Or whatever you're into, even if you don't know it. YouTube will never be able to maximize your wasted time, to sell you more get-rich-quick schemes or soap.

If you turn off Watch History, you can still watch stuff things. There's another tab for Subscriptions, and you can see everyone you follow, in chronological order. This is surprisingly boring. People don't update that much, but on the plus side, you can curate your media exactly how you want to.

The one thing you can't do is refresh the feed for fresh stimulation. There's no dopamine daemon in the background, reshuffling your feed, with extra marshmallows and a little sprinkle of heroin. There's just the same old people you follow, and if they didn't update in the last 10 milliseconds, nothing changes. So I don't maniacally refresh YouTube anymore. If there's nothing there I just… do something else. I've even started eating without watching something, and the digestion still seems to work OK. Like I said, it's liberating.

The YouTube Home page if you turn off Watch History

Thy Home Page Is Their Castle

The YouTube Home page is its castle, and without data peasants building it, the whole facade crumbles. The algorithm is coded for addiction, and if you turn it off YouTube is no longer addictive. YouTube doesn't know what to do with data disappearers, “a deep water whose course is unknown,” as one Egyptian inscription describes “a woman away from her husband.”

I thought the Home page would reset to generic 'popular in Sri Lanka' stuff, but it doesn't. It just plaintively asks you to turn its Logic Memory Center back on, like HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Home page carries a constant error message, like HAL whinging. 'Your watch history is off… Update setting… I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going.'

This experience reminds me of 2001 in more ways than one. 2001, the film, can be quite boring, but it's also my favorite. Sometimes the best things are boring. You have to sit with them a bit. You have to be patient. Being stimulated all the time is not the same as stimulation. Indeed, it's a simulation of stimulation. The deification of distraction. The YouTube algorithm gives you a sugar-rush of sensation, and the same icky feeling afterwards. It's better to not 'eat' this processed feed at all. It's better to choose what your eyeballs are consuming or, better yet, to just look at something real, like your children.

This is how the Internet used to be. You either had to know what you were looking for, or whom you were looking for. There weren't entire flotillas of PhDs out there, trying to hook your eyeballs and feed them to the algorithm. If you cut off what the algorithm knows, however, you can spite its face. The Home page simply won't tell you anything if you don't tell it anything. Which is a good deal, IMHO. Now my son is dinging on some bell incessantly and I'm going to play RISK with him so he stops bothering me. I'm not going to watch YouTube. There's nothing there for me.