What Daily Routine Videos Really Show Us

The video is a detailed account of what one teenage girl did with her afternoon, segmented into short intervals and played for the internet. The timestamps flash on the screen: “2:30 put away and listened to a podcast.” We watch a laptop close and bottles of makeup and hair ties appear, neatly organized, on a desk. “3:15 am getting ready for my run” – she braids her hair and lace up her sneakers, lip-syncing to upbeat music. At 3:30, she runs; at 4:00 am, she hydrates, which she illustrates by filling a large mason jar with water and taking a sip. “Shower 4:15” – a montage of gray tiles and silver faucets and bottles of shampoo and conditioner. It continues like this, through “4:45 of reading” (“The secret story of Donna Tartt”), “6:00 am studying”, “7:00 a salad bowl”, “7:30 am watched television with mom”, “8:30 am looked at the anatomy of the grays,” “10:30 meditation” and, finally, “11:00 fell asleep.”

An entire half of its day was compressed into 40 seconds and uploaded to TikTok, where it has been played over 11 million times and over 2.7 million people liked it. This is a great example of the kind that I have come to think of as a “routine vlog”, in which people commemorate, in detail, how they spend their time. These videos are often adjacent to wellness, clearly meant to be inspiring; they focus on shopping and salad bowls, meditations and tidying up. They illustrate a healthy and regulated way to spend time, even if it is isolated. They seem to imply that there is joy in doing the perfect combination of activities in the right order and at the right times. Some are segmented into even smaller increments. One of them, who advises viewers on a “perfect morning routine for that girl 🦋”, begins: 6:00 am wake up, 6:05 am make your bed, 6:10 am drink water, 6:11 am pamper your skin. This has garnered over nine million plays. Very little is happening in these videos, but they are surprisingly common and surprisingly popular.

They’re fascinating in that they document every detail of someone’s life – no detail is too small, even the 60 seconds spent on drinking water. There is a voyeurism in seeing how someone spends their time, even the duration of their showers. And yet, vlogs are also oddly devoid of any real privacy. Most roam the same non-revealing territory: skincare, showers, healthy meals, hydration, waking, and sleeping. If they are bewitching, it is because they are so monotonous that they rock the viewer in a sort of rhythmic stupor. They depict days that all unfold in much the same way, broken down, from morning to night, into minute intervals.

Schedules, like the to-do lists are ambitious; they rarely represent how we actually spend our time. In reality, things get in the way, things arise, things cancel each other out; a race scheduled for 3:30 am is postponed until 4:30 am, when it is too dark. Even on the days when we keep track of events from our calendars, how many do they really reveal what we did? The minutes spent in the shower can be minutes spent thinking about a grief, imagining ourselves on vacation, or ruminating over tasks we failed to complete. This is not captured by a panoramic camera on Pantene bottles.

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