I spent a large portion of 2022 coding. Seeing as I’m self taught, it required a certain amount of discipline (which I did not have in the beginning and barely have now) as a lot of the core concepts of web development sink in with repetition and real world examples. All of this to say, for better or for worse, I spent a lot of time on YouTube researching answers to my coding questions. Inevitably, "the algorithm", a recommendations engine based on your view history (and several other factors), would suggest something new for me to watch on the sidebar. And then another. And another.

My swan dive into the recommendation rabbit hole starts with a search on out how to create a custom hook in React and ends an hour later with me reading five year old comments on Prince’s 2007 Super Bowl Halftime Show. An hour after that, I’m chest deep in Shrek-iverse conspiracy theories. The algorithm giveth and the algorithm taketh away.

Now, I want to be clear about the algorithmic recommendations: I mostly dislike them. They are deliberately engineered to rip your attention away from the task at hand and more often than not, aren’t even relevant to the current content. That being said, once in a blue moon, it strikes gold.

One night, as I began work on a new project, I was recommended the eerily titled "C Y B E R D R E A M" to be played next. Someone had photoshopped Bart Simpson as the T-1000(?) for the thumbnail and I’m a rube so I clicked it.

Plucky synth pads welcomed me with open arms. The pulsing bass line felt like a mall massage chair delivering just the right amount of pressure to my back meat. It didn’t take long for me to slide into Cyber’s world. It was smooth and perfectly curated. It felt like my ears had put on a robe. Cyber Dream delivered an hour long mix of synth wave that felt complimentary to what I was doing, never contradictory.

I went back to the project I was working on and kept Cyber Dream on in the background. An hour later, I played it back. An hour after that, I looked for the repeat button. The mix was so unobtrusive and I needed that while I studied, coded and put the concepts I was learning into practice. It was comforting, but I knew I couldn’t listen to that same mix forever, so I went looking for more.

There were days when I needed something more tame. Something with a laidback feel. Less "the year 2085" and more "camomile tea". I found a few mixes for that. My siblings and I have a few mixes we let play in the background when gaming online. There are even some I listen to when completing mind-numbingly boring clerical work.

I know a good portion of people that would look at these and think: "Why not just play something on Spotify? Why YouTube?" There’s just something about the algorithm that has queued up some really winners for me, and that’s why I keep coming back. I’m also a sucker for spending a few minutes in the comment section on most visits to these mixes. I have an unhealthy fascination with people pouring their hearts out under an early 2000’s rap rock performance.

As a gift to you, here are a few of my favorites for all types of moods:

A more relaxed study mix

Studio Ghibli Cafe Bosa Nova Mix
Final Fantasy Classical Guitar Collection
3 hours of relaxed Donkey Kong music

A more synth-y mix

Cyber Dream (of course)
Cyber Dream 2 (the sequel)
Voyage 5
The Final Frontier
Simulations 3

Something with a little more bounce

Trappin In Paradise 85
Japanese City Pop Mixtape Vol. 11
Fun Tonight

When I'm feeling weird and I want to sit in that feeling for a bit

Midwest Emo Mix
Aquatic Ambience 10 Hours

And while they’re not technically the type of mix I’m referring to (a collection of unedited songs strung together into a single video), any What’s Happening mix by Keiffer Gr33n is outstanding.

For those studying, learning, working, etc. in silence: I commend you. You have reached singularity and will soon transcend this mortal plane. For the rest of us, find something you can put on in the background and finally finish making that video essay breaking down the inner workings of Shrek Forever After. Lord knows we need it now more than ever.