Big Brother

Live TV, when news is in the process of being made, or not being made as the case may be, is mesmerizing – the OJ white SUV trek, or the balloon boy, or the airplane in the Hudson. It’s hard to stop watching, even when absolutely nothing is happening, because something interesting may be about to happen, right before your eyes.

Live webcams can be similarly addictive, and vastly more time-consuming, since they’re on all the time. The first one I ever discovered had something to do with the Panda cubs at the Washington Zoo. I say “had something to do with” because even though I stared at it for what seemed like hours, nothing ever happened – just some curled up black and white balls.

Then there was the Africam, which I’m not going to link to because it seems they now make you watch a scary commercial first involving cyber crime and guns that I thought was going to wreck my computer again, because it went on and on with little boxes popping up; but I used to leave the Africam on for hours in the background, listening to the noises of Africa and tuning in occasionally to see the baboons climbing over the camera or the elephant checking in for his evening bath. One time there was even a wildebeest carcass – I’d missed the kill, but saw the vultures and hyenas cleaning everything up.

I’ve just discovered traffic webcams for the unpredictable road we call the Blue Route because it was so controversial it existed only as a blue line on a map for twenty years. They refresh the webcam every five minutes, so the cars and trucks jump along as if they’re being moved by an invisible hand; and, since it’s not totally live, it has the extra added benefit of not being totally compelling.

Something really happens in this one, though, and you only have to watch for a few minutes. It’s Geysir, in Iceland. The Geysir named Geysir doesn’t go off reliably anymore, because of the problem of the trash in it; but Strokkur, does – every three minutes or so.

You can see the cars going by on the road, and the place where we stayed across the street – we were in the little cabins you can just barely see in the trees, behind the big red-roofed building on the left. You can see when lots of people are there, and when no one is there; and it’s strange to think of me being on that very webcam, all by myself, at 6:30 the morning we were leaving.

That’s the freaky thing about webcams – you’re probably on one, knowingly or not.

And now I’m off to my car and the invisible hand.

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