The Puddle

When still water runs deep


“It’s spring when the world is puddle-wonderful.”  e. e. cummings

Less than a week into the new year, the same day Netflix announced that it was now available in more than 190 countries, more than half a million people tuned in to watch a very different kind of broadcast: a livestream of a puddle.

The puddle wasn’t particularly large, nor was it deep. As puddles go, it was eminently forgettable, unless you were one of the Campbellian heroes stoically trying to cross its path: Odysseus facing Charybdis, only slightly relocated to the northern English town of Newcastle rather than the Strait of Messina. And instead of a monstrous, ship-crushing vortex of fury, it was ... a puddle.

“Water you talking about,” you might say. “Rain this nonsense in right now. What could precipitate such ridiculousness?” Here is how the puddle started. For weeks, a team working at the marketing agency Drummond Central had noticed a large puddle outside their window, located inconveniently in the middle of a pedestrian throughway. They watched people try to navigate it. Some sidestepped the puddle, squelching into the soggy mud around it. Some took a running jump and leaped over it. Some simply walked right through.

Being understandably gripped by the various human reactions to the puddle, one member of the team attached his iPhone to the window and set up a livestream via Periscope. Soon, 3,000 people were watching the puddle. Then 10,000. Commenters from all over the world were wading in, albeit remotely, offering live commentary like “haha sign man went in HARD,” and “Giant leap for mankind, this,” and, “I just want to see someone shag the puddle. Is that too much to ask?”

In many ways, like the dress, or the question of dog pants, the puddle was total eyewash—a distraction for bored office workers during the most depressing week of the year. But you could also argue that it was a kind of slow television, falling into the genre of seven-hour Norwegian train journeys and knitting programs on PBS and the National Zoo’s panda cam. Perhaps there was something meditative about watching people navigate the puddle. Perhaps it was a kind of metaphor for the human condition: Some leap, others meander, still others simply end up ruining their shoes.

This being the Internet, the puddle was soon co-opted. One man brought a pink inflatable lounger and cruised right through. Another brought a yellow plastic sign, the kind used to alert people that floors are slippery when wet, and plonked it in the middle of the puddle. Someone brought a surfboard. Someone else is selling a bottle of supposed puddle water on eBay for £66,000.

And verily, the brands were swift to follow.

Perchance you are still rolling your eyes at these craven attempts to find meaning in what is, at the end of the day, a puddle. To which I leave you with wisdom from the greatest of the 20th century philosophers, who looked in a puddle and saw ... himself.