If you have found yourself lingering behind windows more than usual, overlooking streets, cats, birds, flowers, humans, rains and whatever your eyes can reach, then you aren't alone. Window-watching has become an escape for many who are sick and tired of staying indoors since the pandemic began. And, wait for it, people aren't only peeking out of their windows but also of strangers' cooped up in unheard towns and cities around the world.
How, you ask?
A web application, WindowSwap lets people submit the view from their window as a 10-minute recorded clip, as well as watch what others have uploaded. For some, it's become a ticket to travel the world without actually travelling, for others, a stress-buster and a springboard of creativity that comes free of cost and from the safety of their screens.
Sonali Ranjit and Vaishnav Balasubramaniam, the Indian couple who started this as a quarantine project from their home in Singapore, had no idea WindowSwap will take a life of its own. A free-to-use platform, it has received over 10,000 window submissions from 110 countries and 3.3 million viewers from many more since it went live last June.
Ranjit recalls how the idea of WindowSwap came to her and her husband, both of whom work in the advertising field and love travelling: "A lot of our work is creative. But staring at the same window, the same apartment, week after week during the lockdown, wasn't exactly inspiring. Wish we could look out of some other windows. That was the thought."
But today, options galore. On the website, you can gaze at the rugged peaks in Afghanistan, snowfall in Finland, rains in India, clouds floating over Berlin, waves crashing in Australia, sunny skies of Spain or a backyard forest in Atlanta. It is inspiring people to set travel goals. "We have a stereotypical picture of Iran in our mind but the window views we've received, breaks it all. It's got green vistas, huge mountains and snowy winters. I want to visit Iran now," says Ranjit, 32. "And do you know there's a city called 6th of October in Egypt? I learnt from a window submission," she adds quickly.
However, WindowSwap isn't Instagram, serving up only filtered and exhilarating views of the world. A lot of the windows let you simply stare at planes taking off, cars pulling over, cranes digging away and masks drying or ducks, dogs and cats (lots of cats) doing their own thing.
"From Norway to Hawaii, my husband's current obsession is watching chickens in the backyard," Ranjit bursts into laughter while admitting that she has been oddly enjoying the scenes of busy streets. Even Lubna Patwa, a 23-year-old graduate from Vadodara in Gujarat, finds this mundaneness relatable. "I haven't been to Ukraine or Nairobi but looking at these views and knowing that others are looking at them too makes me feel connected to the world. It's like we are isolated but we are in this together."
Yes, WindowSwap started as a platform to travel virtually but now people are using it to beat anxiety, trigger reflection and find peace in a world that's in a state of endless chaos. "We've seen the use of WindowSwap spike when countries go through an anxious phase. For instance, when New Zealand announced the second lockdown and when the US went to elections," informs Ranjit.
Tatra mountains, Poland
Though window-view submissions have come from Jammu & Kashmir to Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra to West Bengal, India isn't their biggest user base. In terms of usage, too, Indians have logged on to either take a break from their daily work and the cacophony of "the TikTok world" or give a vent to their wanderlust as in the case of Bishan Samaddar, a book editor from Kolkata. However, people from the US, Europe, Turkey, Egypt and Iran are watching windows frequently and inventively.
"Teachers are using window-views to teach geography to students. Artists are using them as creative prompts to draw and paint. People are meditating overlooking the virtual beaches. A user likes to fall asleep while bingeing on these videos. I am told a retire nursery volunteer played the WindowSwap at a hospice in the US and the patients enjoyed it," Ranjit shares. That's not all. Stanza, which is Scotland's international poetry festival, has commissioned poems inspired by the WindowSwap project and an untitled music video collaboration is in the offing.
WindowSwap had started as a pandemic project but will its last after the vaccine is administered and the world is back to its old, busy way, when the only window most of us looked at was of the phone or desktop? Ranjit can't say for sure but she has little to think otherwise. Understandably. Their Twitter followers have termed WindowSwap as a "delightful antidote", "addictive" and an idea that "should be an app on smart TVs". Riya Parikh, a curriculum developer from Mumbai, says that she has always found window-watching from cabs, trains, flights, office or her home relaxing and this website is a welcome addition to that habit.
"Some people play jazz in the background, some dress up their window ledges with coffee mugs, wine glasses, plants, candles and books to make the videos appealing. We have at least 20 per cent repeat users," Ranjit signs off on a positive note.