By Tanya Silverman
The day was long. The commute was draining. The subway ride was so jam-packed with passengers the least patient of them broke out into brawls that quickly switched from verbal to violent. The hot, humid air was heavy with the city’s grit and grime.
Exhausted, I feel the stale mugginess penetrate my pores. The day’s aura of discontent follows me home as I lug my overstuffed messenger bag over my achy right shoulder, trying hard not to slouch down or veer too far left for balance.
I long for home; I slog home.
Past turnstiles, stairs, crosswalks, sidewalks, gates, and up an elevator, my apartment’s dense wooden door faces me as the final barrier. I rotate the jagged key left, turn the stubborn knob right, kick the bottom forth, and burst through the tall threshold.
While entering the hallway’s serene darkness, I’m pleasantly greeted by my friendly feline, who mews faintly and bumps the top of her precious little head against the front of my shinbone. She then slinks slowly across the contour of my calf; I feel the purr buzz beneath her fur.
I bend down to pet my dear cat. My stress subsides. All is peaceful.
Well, truthfully, that’s my ideal situation. My life is good, don’t get me wrong, but we all know that some days can be quite wearing, and for me, I crave a cat’s presence at the end of them.
I am currently cat-less, however. So for the time being, when I feel fatigued, I quell my burning desire for felines by opening a laptop and typing into the search engine, “grey kittens,” “cats on Roomba,” “Pallas cats,” “cats chasing tails,” and so forth. Platforms like YouTube or Google Images easily provide countless examples of such visual entertainment.
Yet I can’t help but notice how I’m always scoffed at (directly or indirectly) for this leisurely habit. Looking at cats online seems to have become synonymous in our culture to wasting your life away on the internet–not exactly akin to the pathetic ranks of “staying home and masturbating,” but definitely connoting a low form of mindless self indulgence.
Honestly, I don’t get it. Individuals relax, take mental breaks, or zone out using their technological devices in a wide variety of ways. How many hours per week do I personally spend playing video games? None. Watching mindless television series? Zero. Online shopping? Maybe one or two, tops.
What’s so wrong with spending, say, two to four minutes a day, a few times a week, watching segments of frisky tabby kittens, checking for updates on the happenings of Lil Bub, or giggling at the latest silly face on Derpy Cats? Or taking breaks from filling out tedious paperwork to click on Grumpy Cat’s latest grumpy grimace? I’m aware that I’m not in the laboratory inventing the most groundbreaking medical advancement of the century or composing a mind-blowing political essay that will influence the onset of world peace–but neither are soccer fans when they’re streaming a game on their computers or tablets.
Besides, it’s not like looking at cats online is a whole lifestyle in itself. Annual internet cat video festivals are a thing, yes, but I have yet to meet anyone who stays at home all day and evades looking for a job or socializing because they’re so entrenched in watching Maru videos.
Indiana University Media School assistant professor Jessica Gall Myrick recently conducted a study about the effects that watching online cat media has on humans’ moods. Myrick surveyed nearly 7,000 participants with the assistance of Lil Bub’s owner, Mike Bridavsky, who distributed surveys through social media.
Myrick said in a statement that online cat videos have become so popular that researchers could not ignore the topic anymore. In 2014 alone, over two million cat videos were posted on YouTube, and they attracted nearly 26 billion views.
“We all have watched a cat video online, but there is really little empirical work done on why so many of us do this, or what effects it might have on us,” she added. “As a media researcher and online cat video viewer, I felt compelled to gather some data about this pop culture phenomenon.”
The results were largely optimistic. Participants reported that, after watching cat-related media online, they felt more positive and energetic, plus had fewer negative emotions, like sadness, anxiety, or annoyance.
The participants often viewed internet cats while they were studying or working.
“Even if they are watching cat videos on YouTube to procrastinate or while they should be working, the emotional pay-off may actually help people take on tough tasks afterward,” Myrick stated.
To build upon these findings, Myrick suggested that in the future, researchers could look into ways that internet cat videos could be used as inexpensive pet therapy.
So, rest assured. Consuming cat media on the internet is good for you. I’m going to continue doing so without shame, and all I have to say is, don’t hate on me(ow).