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Neither of the YouTube channels that I am profiling today are alternate reality games (ARGs). When the internet is finally perfect, I shall happen upon and write about a new ARG every time that I visit YouTube. Presently, though, either no interesting ARGs are being devised or else they are too well camouflaged for me to be able to flush them out. So in the meantime I am falling back on two rising channels, Barely Sociable and Octolab TV, which still furnish fine examples of phenomena that can occur only on YouTube.

Barely Sociable is a YouTuber from San Diego and his channel had started its work in earnest this autumn. He tends to get lumped together with the YouTubers Reignbot (who he has collaborated with) and Nexpo, as purveyors of dark internet mysteries, and yet he reminds me a little of Internet Historian as well. Barely Sociable is scarcely a chalk and blackboard when compared to the opulence of Internet Historian’s extravaganzas, but both probe into events in our online culture that feel like they are somehow deserving of greater commemoration.

As an investigator, Barely Sociable’s particular patch is Reddit. He understands the aesthetics of investigative journalism, in that we are all much more enthralled by the process than we are by the solution. Often the skulduggery that Barely Sociable investigates has not involved anybody losing their pension. There is a mysterious hotel room that has featured on Reddit, and a strange phone number that had appeared on billboards in the 90s, and an unravelling of the vast artwork Neurocam. But I think that we like riding at Barely Sociable’s side whilst he is travelling from one clue to the next. He has cultivated the drawl of Philip Marlowe or of some hardboiled noir detective; he is also resourceful enough and knows enough of the world, of people, and of practicalities for us to feel an undeniable confidence in him.

It is definitely a performance. In “Arizona Iced Tea – 99¢ Forever,” a video that had appeared back in April when Barely Sociable was still working out who he was, the narration was bratty and flippant and full of sass. This younger-brother personality has been since discarded. Barely Sociable now speaks with a studied coolness and nonchalance. Once his channel has evolved, he will be probably invited to private houses at weekends to solve murders. He will cross swords with his aloof, fur-lined hostess at the cocktail cabinet. “Sir, I don’t like your manners…” “Well, I’m not crazy about yours.”

There are today eleven videos for you to watch and enjoy. I’d like to hone in, however, on an erratic attempt at a takedown when the Barely Sociable brand was still barely a month old. In October the YouTuber CREEPYBUNNY had released a post entitled “BARELY SOCIABLE STEALS CONTENT.” I’m not going to repeat all of the Bunny’s slanders, which seem to be two or three scrappy coincidences glued together with nothing, but their true relevance is to point to a supply crisis within the internet-mysteries economy.

There are now too few mysteries and too many YouTubers investigating them. For instance, in Barely Sociable’s first video, on Lake City Quiet Pills, he rather defensively draws our attention to a discrepancy between the stated ages of the bogeyman ReligionOfPeace that, he assures us, not “a single other person” has noticed. In her inept attempts to roast Barely Sociable, the Bunny is really panicking that a talented newcomer has wandered onto her beat and that he is disrupting everything.

The prompt for her dismay seems to be video by the YouTuber That One Pickle, who had concluded his analysis of the website Mortis.com with the fateful words, “Mortis.com will forever remain a mystery throughout the internet, as no one will have known what lies within the sinister site.” Barely Sociable duly pierced this mystery and deflated it, matter-of-factly disregarding the “sinister” ambiance of Mortis.com and plausibly theorising that it was an early venue for illicit file-sharing. This is clearly too painful for the Bunny to acknowledge, and she can only allude dismissively, doubtless through gritted teeth, to “what creative and original elements Barely Sociable might have added…”

***

Roll up, roll up! Octolab TV is like a circus of daring octopuses. The exhibits are amazing and extraordinary! Nonetheless, the innovation of this channel comes not so much from its exhibits, or even from the trials that they are put through, but rather from its participatory, somewhat crowdsourcing format.

The octopus continues to puzzle humans. They are evidently more intelligent than most of the animals that we interact with, but they do not possess consciousness or language or even any basic social understanding. Their bodies are radically alien to our own. All of their intelligence is only ever manifested as a listless underwater playfulness. Octopuses in fact die shortly after breeding, rendering the majority of their frisky lives the equivalent of foreplay. The tragedy of the octopus is that their restless intelligence is merely something to keep them preoccupied until they get laid.

However intelligent the octopus, it is comically impossible for us to ever identify or empathise with them. Whenever we at last meet some intelligent extra-terrestrials, the encounter will be mostly the same as our current relationship with the octopus.

I had initially felt mildly guilt-stricken when watching the videos on Octolab TV. Earlier this year I had embarked upon the Camino de Santiago, feasting my way across Galicia where octopus is the speciality dish. I had developed this joke over the rounds of banquets wherein, “The octopus is the most intelligent of the animals and they are also the tastiest. Maybe they are a gateway to cannibalism.” But they really do taste delicious – like a creamy, heavenly, silken blancmange. And now, with Octolab TV, I was going to come face-to-eye-and-beak with these sensitive creatures that I had hitherto rather thoughtlessly gobbled down.

They are always startling when you first view them. Yet this is because each limb is scratching about independently of the others and, if the octopus’s brain has been spread over its entire body, the question for us becomes how thick or thin the butter is. In one Q&A, Octolab TV indeed explain that only 30 to 40 percent of the octopus’ neurons are located in its “formal,” head-based brain. So is the octopus only superficially extra-intelligent due to its glitzy rearrangement of any other creature’s normal system? Or, as Octolab TV insists, is the octopus’s formal brain relieved of workaday sensory processing and “freed up” for altogether profounder computations?

Octolab TV is purportedly headquartered in the Aegean Sea. They appear be kitted out with the tanks and the octopuses purely as a YouTube channel, and whatever laboratory or aquarium lies behind Octolab TV is not keen to show itself. One of their stated functions is, however, to rescue distressed octopuses and to release them back into the wild. This comes across in their videos about Nora, an octopus who they are nursing and who they seem to genuinely love and exult over.

In the videos, the octopuses drape themselves restlessly over things and pour themselves into brainteasers. Sometimes, the challenges are suggested by the channel’s viewers. The captions provide the most basic information about what is happening and then we, the viewers, are left to interpret the octopus’s behaviour for ourselves. The videos are often lengthy and rather slow-moving (despite their perky soundtracks) in order to encourage us to reflect upon the clips whilst we are watching them. Most of the real action is consequently down in the comments.

Let us take, here, “Octopus Mirror Test 2 – VIEWER REQUEST.” In this video, an octopus is plunged into the apocalyptic existential trauma of beholding oneself in a mirror. The bulk of this video is raw footage. Down in the comments, different users suggest “Put the mirror center of the tank so he can inspect back of it” and “How about putting a mark on his body like they do with elephants and dolphins to see if they touch the mark and study it…?” One guy ventures, “To me it looks like he is checking the boundaries of the mirror. Where his reflection stops. He then swims toward the back of the tank, and checks from that angle. I have also seen chimps do the same. I think it figured out it was him.” Another jokes, “This soundtrack is clearly a result from another test. Octopus with few keyboards and drumpads.”

Under a previous, related video, one commenter had joked about, “that moment when you look in the mirror and you noticed your actually an octopus.” Octolab TV is itself the magic mirror in which we see ourselves thus reflected. Each of us is an individual tentacle, which is probing and exploring on its own little mission. Our online community is thereby revealed, by means of the octopus, to be disconcertingly octopal. A group of minor disconnected intelligences all groping towards a common knowledge.