Dec. 26, 2007 -- It's a new world. If you want to see the images of the year, the most dramatic, happy, sad, creepy, whatever you're into, you don't have to wait for the year-end recap on TV. They're right there on your computer, available always.
Whether it's kids doing stupid, reckless things like setting fire to themselves, a cat playing the piano or a beauty queen taking a pratfall onstage, it's all on YouTube -- the most popular -- and other video sites like Google and Yahoo.
One hundred billion videos were watched this year, and there's no formula for success in grabbing viewers. There's artist George Vlosich, whose medium isn't paint and canvas; it's the Etch a Sketch. Vlosich taped himself making an incredibly detailed sketch of basketball star LeBron James. Five hours of drawing condensed into a few minutes went viral, as it's called, and it's been watched 1.7 million times (click here to watch).
Another popular video was a 22-second tape that convinced many UFO believers that finally, proof was at hand that ETs had invaded. An amazingly realistic fake created with CGI software showed what looked like flying saucers cruising over Haiti. It's had 6 millions views so far this year.
'Cyberslacking' Costs Big Bucks
Lots of the watching seems to go on at work. One study found 78 percent of employees waste time on the Internet during the workday. It's called "cyberslacking," and it's said to cost companies $170 billion in lost productivity.
Many of the people love watching animals. A video of two napping sea otters floating on their backs at the Vancouver Aquarium and -- get this -- holding hands! has been clicked on more than 9 million times (click here to watch).
Another winner was the video of Nora (click here to watch), a cat who plays the piano when the mood strikes her. Nora's video has gotten 7 million clicks so far.
The most popular animal video of 2007 was shot by an American tourist on safari in South Africa's Kruger National Park. A herd of cape buffalo approach a pride of hungry lions, and the lions pounce. The herd scatters, but a buffalo calf is caught and sent tumbling into a watering hole (click here to watch).
It's not surprising that people like watching animals, says Rutgers University anthropologist Helen Fisher.
"For millions of years, we spent more than hours watching animals. We spent generations, decades, centuries, millennia watching other animals, watching their behavior to see how we could hunt them ourselves, to see where the danger was, to see how animals might work against us or for us."
As the lions try to drag the baby buffalo onto shore, a crocodile chomps down on the baby buffalo's leg. A tug-of-war ensues, and the lions eventually win. But just as the baby seems doomed to become the lions' lunch, the buffalo herd returns like the cavalry in the old movie serials. Has it returned to rescue the baby? Yes!
The herd surrounds the lions, and one buffalo charges and flings a lioness into the air. Then the biggest surprise; the calf is still alive! It gets to its feet and rejoins the herd, and the buffalo chase the lions away. This remarkable video has been watched more than 20 million times.
"We see some of us in those animals," Fisher explained. "We see some of the fear of us getting caught by a group of lions, or us defending our baby against a predator."
Millions of Observers
Now centuries ago, if one of our ancestors had seen something like this, he would have talked about this around the campfire, and it would have become the stuff of legend. People would have doubted that it really happened. But what's different about the Internet is that when the most amazing things happen, everyone in the world gets to see it.
So many people now watch Internet videos that even some real stars choose this medium first. Comic Will Ferrell has eliminated the studio middleman, going straight to his fans with skits like "The Landlord" posted on the Web site funnyordie.com. Ferrell plays a tenant being hassled by an unusual landlord -- a tough-talking 2-year-old girl named Pearl, who demands the rent and threatens to put Ferrell on the street if he doesn't pay.
Funnyordie's Adam McKay has directed Ferrell in $100 million movies like "Anchorman," but he was just as excited when "The Landlord" went viral because Pearl is his daughter. The skit has been watched more than 48 million times. The genesis for the clip, McKay says, came from Pearl's ability to enunciate well at an early age. McKay told ABC that he would feed Pearl her absurd lines and "She would say it. We'd all laugh like idiots. She would laugh. And so for her, it was kind of just a fun game."
Embarrassing moments go viral too, as when Miss South Carolina Teen USA Lauren Caitlin Upton was asked during the televised pageant to answer the question "Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can't locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think this is?"
Upton's halting, convoluted response started with, "I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some, people out there in our nation don't have maps ..." and it went downhill from there.
The Miss Teen USA contest was watched on TV by 4 million people, but the video of Upton's answer was clicked on more than 19 million times. And thousands more people watch mean parodies of her that were quickly posted on YouTube.
The Global Campfire
Apparently the humiliation attracts viewers, even when the humiliation gets nastier. Entire Web sites are now dedicated to showcasing fights. Some kids use the Internet to intimidate others. They bully other kids and then proudly post the video online. This shouldn't surprise us, says Fisher, because we all want to advertise who we are to the world, and that includes how tough we are.
Fisher says we ask ourselves many questions. "Am I more brave? Am I more cowardly? ... Am I smarter? Am I funnier? Am I more clever? Am I better looking? ... Where do I stand in the community?"
"20/20" asked Fisher why people don't simply go outside, talk to people and find out that way where they stand.
"They could do that too. But most of the time these days, we don't really know our neighbors," she said. "We often can work with somebody for 20 years, and never meet their wife or their husband or their children, or know what they do in their time off. And so we are building new communities. And of course, we're building them on the Internet."
And some of these communities are bizarre. Some sites feature kids risking their lives doing dangerous stunts, like crashing their bikes into buildings, setting fire to themselves or jumping off cliffs into lakes below.
"These people, as they will tell you, are trying to get out of a small town. ... They don't have money, they don't have prestige," Fisher says, "but they've got courage, and so they're selling that courage."
About all they've got to sell is their courage, she says.
And so people watch these new Internet stars sell their courage or their artistic talents or their humor. Millions sit at their computers, taking it in.
"It's really like a global campfire," says Fisher. "We sit around it, and judge how we're doing in the world."
Other top viral videos from 2007:
Chocolate Rain: Tay Zonday's catchy song has been viewed more than 12 million times (click here to watch).
Playing Favorites: YouTube user mememolly asks, 'Are you anybody's favorite person?' (click here to watch)
'I'm Not Anyone's Favorite Person': Three responses to the YouTube question: 'Are you anybody's favorite person? (click here to watch)'
Wrestler Hits TV Correspondent: ABC's John Stossel got attacked by WWF wrestler David Schultz in 1984 (click here to watch).