I can’t help but feel this is one of those experiences that would have seemed incomprehensible until a few years ago. Right now, on my television there is a livestream of planes making the final descent into Heathrow Airport. Jerry Dyer, the man filming it for the Big Jet TV YouTube channel, is offering commentary (“Oooh, wind shear!”, “One for the fans there”, “Look at the [inaudible] on that, bosh”) which would be intermittently baffling even if it were consistently audible over the wind which, quite a lot of the time, it isn’t.
As of now, there are 188,000 other people watching this; on a really good night, when Nigel Farage is on form, GB News has been known to get 150,000. At this exact moment, in fact, Dyer has stopped filming planes altogether to talk to a TV interviewer, and all we’re left with is some mumbling and an unchanging shot of some grass.
What is the appeal of Big Jet TV? While Dyer may have reminded us that it is “all about the planes”, I suspect it is not, in fact, all about the planes. Partly I think it’s about a broader sense of suspense: there’s just something exciting about watching someone try to do something as difficult as land a jumbo jet in a 70mph gale, and something delightful about the moment when they succeed. When the Qatar Airways A380 finally landed, after two abortive attempts and a few loops of the North Downs, you could practically hear the whoops of delight from across the internet.
Partly, too, it’s just that, well, everyone else is watching. Like the day the chaotic meeting of Handforth Parish Council went viral (“You have no authority here, Jackie Weaver!”), or the even weirder one we all spent watching a livestream of people treading in a puddle in Newcastle, Twitter instils in its users a lemming-like impulse to do what everyone else is doing just so we can keep up with the memes. This statement is unfair, if anything, to lemmings.
More than that: the internet has enabled us to appreciate the unbounded joy people get from their nerdier or more obscure hobbies. Dyer just announced that the wife of one pilot currently coming into land is watching the livestream, and sounded genuinely delighted to learn that the aviation industry was watching him back.
But mostly I think it’s just that a lot of us want to feel connected in some way. Like certain other experiences we’ve all had recently, Storm Eunice is a thing we’re all going through which has the potential to be slightly scary, but which will actually be experienced mostly in the form of sitting in our homes feeling vaguely bored. Such moments make us long for something communal, to make it feel real, like we’re not going through this alone.
“Hold tight, hold tight!” yells Dyer, as another plane wobbles its way onto the runway. “All the fun of the fair!”
Also, what if something really exciting happens, and we’re not watching? I mean, you’d never forgive yourself.