YouTube Celebrates Nine Years of Sucking Away Man-Hours

Do the “Harlem Shake”—or send a man to the moon. Your choice.

YouTube turns 9 this week, and so, as is not uncommon in the tech world, the video-sharing site sent out a press release celebrating its birthday with the Internet presses.

That press release links to a silly karaoke mashup video, but never mind that, because it also contains some alarming figures about how YouTube users spend their time YouTubing. Everybody can see YouTube play counts, which have been a fundamental part of the YouTube experience since time immemorial, but the American public has a right to know this, too. Here goes.

Frozen's "Let It Go" has spawned more than 120,000 videos, including parodies and straight renditions. There are half a million "Gangnam Style" videos (which, incidentally, just hit 2 billion YouTube plays). And, most chillingly, there are 1.5 million videos inspired by the altogether unfortunate "Harlem Shake."

Assuming a conservative two hours of human manpower per "Harlem Shake" video (planning plus choreographing plus filming plus uploading), with roughly four people per video, that's 12 million hours of human labor devoted to the "Harlem Shake." In other words, significantly more than the 7 million man-hours it took to build the Empire State Building and about half of the 20 or 30 million hours of human labor estimated to have built Stonehenge.

For comparison, Silbury Hill, the prehistoric chalk mound in the English county of Wiltshire, is estimated to have taken 12 or 15 million hours of labor. The Great Pyramid, the largest structure in Mesoamerican Mexico, took only about 800,000 hours. The Apollo Project took 15.5 billion man-hours, a number that will be eclipsed by "Harlem Shake" videos in roughly 1,292 years if they continue at the current rate.

Anyway, happy birthday, YouTube. May you continue to awaken unimagined human potential for decades to come.