Buzzsaw | Matthew Gilbert

Falling down the rabbit hole online

Hilary Fung for the boston globe

They’re rabbit holes. And once you fall in, you just keep falling.

You are there at your desk or on your laptop, working or writing an e-mail or reading the news. You are focused.

And then you are not there. You’ve tumbled into a digitized somewhere else, suddenly plummeting through YouTube: archival concert footage of the Velvet Underground, a clip of a cute puppy in his first kiddie pool, an emaciated Bette Davis in a red dress on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” And what’s this, a bad lip reading of “The Notebook”?


I tend to get lost in Funny or Die, the comedy site created by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay in 2007. I drop through it like the executive in the “Mad Men” title sequence. Recently I was writing about the end of ABC’s “Happy Endings,” which led to a search of the cast members, which led to a YouTube video of “Happy Endings” bloopers, which led — in a 10-minute detour inspired by the YouTube “Suggested” column — to the “Bridesmaids” bloopers reel, which led to a “Best of Jane” from “Happy Endings,” which led to actress Eliza Coupe in a Funny or Die video called “Frenemies,” which had me laughing out loud.

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Then, of course, I was watching “Frenemies 2” and “Frenemies 3,” also quite hysterical, which led to a Funny or Die clip of actor Michael Shannon delivering an angry dramatic reading of an infamously deranged letter from the Delta Gamma Sorority leadership.

Now wait . . . where was I before that White Rabbit ran by with his pocket watch? Oh, right, “Happy Endings.”

Even writing this column, I find myself slipping into a wealth of YouTube material featuring the late “Glee” star Cory Monteith, including an awkward tour of his home by the Young Hollywood website and an interview with him and Lea Michele during a Teen Vogue shoot. And now, what’s this, back on Funny or Die to watch the cast of “Parks and Recreation” in “Humblebrag” and “FaceMashups” interviews with digital hybrids of Taylor Swift and John Mayer? I’m missing in action and loving it.

Yes, there is always TV, which can take up a lot of time. According to a late 2012 Nielsen report, the average American spends more than 34 hours a week in front of a TV set. But at least for me, TV time — whether I’m watching on a TV or on a computer screen — is deliberate time. I’m choosing what to watch, and in the watching mode, which means I’m away from my literal desk as well as my figurative desk. I’m watching a show, not careening among snippets of whatnot.


Even when I’m watching Web-only series, such as the sitcom “Husbands,” with its hyper 9-minute episodes, or Jerry Seinfeld’s 10-20 minute “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” interviews, I’m in the TV mode. I’m going to those sites as I might go to a TV channel.

But rabbit-holing is different. It’s an oddly unwitting tour of distractions, an almost unconscious journey that zigs and zags and involves a lot of randomness. It’s a bowl of potato chips that somehow just disappear. It’s more of a jazz improvisation or a noodling jam by Phish or the Grateful Dead, dropping in and out of sense, as opposed to a composed piece of music. When you fall into a rabbit hole, you don’t know where you’re going to end up.

A few years back, as bookstores, record stores, and general-interest newspapers and magazines began to struggle, there was talk about the death of serendipity. Would we ever browse again, and discover new things, in this “go to” age? Are we all getting locked into our own specific niches and losing the element of discovery?

The Internet says no. It encourages these little rebellions guided by our intuition that lead to unexpected places. I’ve spent more minutes than I care to add up free-falling through Web videos. It has become a way of life, the interstitial trips online. And it’s not my dirty little secret; anyone who sits at a computer for hours every day is probably spending plenty of time lost in space too. Wonderland beckons.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.