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  • The most romantic thing to ever happen to me online

  • started out the way most things do:

  • without me, and not online.

  • On December 10, 1896, the man on the medal,

  • Alfred Nobel, died.

  • One hundred years later, exactly, actually,

  • December 10, 1996,

  • this charming lady, Wislawa Szymborska,

  • won the Nobel Prize for literature.

  • She's a Polish poet.

  • She's a big deal, obviously,

  • but back in '96, I thought I had never heard of her,

  • and when I checked out her work,

  • I found this sweet little poem,

  • "Four in the Morning."

  • "The hour from night to day.

  • The hour from side to side.

  • The hour for those past thirty..."

  • And it goes on, but as soon as I read this poem,

  • I fell for it hard,

  • so hard, I suspected we must have met

  • somewhere before.

  • Had I shared an elevator ride with this poem?

  • Did I flirt with this poem

  • in a coffee shop somewhere?

  • I could not place it, and it bugged me,

  • and then in the coming week or two,

  • I would just be watching an old movie,

  • and this would happen.

  • (Video) Groucho Marx: Charlie, you should have come to the first party.

  • We didn't get home till around four in the morning.

  • Rives: My roommates would have the TV on,

  • and this would happen.

  • (Music: Seinfeld theme)

  • (Video) George Costanza: Oh boy, I was up til four in the morning

  • watching that Omen trilogy.

  • Rives: I would be listening to music,

  • and this would happen.

  • (Video) Elton John: ♪ It's four o'clock in the morning, damn it. ♪

  • Rives: So you can see what was going on, right?

  • Obviously, the demigods of coincidence

  • were just messing with me.

  • Some people get a number stuck in their head,

  • you may recognize a certain name or a tune,

  • some people get nothing, but four in the morning

  • was in me now, but mildly,

  • like a groin injury.

  • I always assumed it would just go away

  • on its own eventually,

  • and I never talked about it with anybody,

  • but it did not, and I totally did.

  • In 2007, I was invited to speak at TED

  • for the second time,

  • and since I was still an authority on nothing,

  • I thought, what if I made a multimedia presentation

  • on a topic so niche

  • it is actually inconsequential

  • or actually cockamamie.

  • So my talk had some of my four in the morning examples,

  • but it also had examples

  • from my fellow TED speakers that year.

  • I found four in the morning in a novel

  • by Isabel Allende.

  • I found a really great one

  • in the autobiography of Bill Clinton.

  • I found a couple in the work of Matt Groening,

  • although Matt Groening told me later

  • that he could not make my talk

  • because it was a morning session

  • and I gather that he is not an early riser.

  • However, had Matt been there,

  • he would have seen this mock conspiracy theory

  • that was un-freaking-canny for me to assemble.

  • It was totally contrived

  • just for that room, just for that moment.

  • That's how we did it in the pre-TED.com days.

  • It was fun. That was pretty much it.

  • When I got home, though, the emails started coming in

  • from people who had seen the talk live,

  • beginning with, and this is still my favorite,

  • "Here's another one for your collection:

  • 'It's the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter.'"

  • The sentiment is Marlene Dietrich.

  • The email itself was from another very

  • sexy European type,

  • TED Curator Chris Anderson.

  • (Laughter)

  • Chris found this quote

  • on a coffee cup or something,

  • and I'm thinking, this man is the Typhoid Mary

  • of ideas worth spreading, and I have infected him.

  • I am contagious,

  • which was confirmed less than a week later

  • when a Hallmark employee scanned and sent

  • an actual greeting card

  • with that same quotation.

  • As a bonus, she hooked me up with a second one they make.

  • It says, "Just knowing I can call you

  • at four in the morning if I need to

  • makes me not really need to,"

  • which I love, because together these are like,

  • "Hallmark: When you care enough

  • to send the very best twice,

  • phrased slightly differently."

  • I was not surprised at the TEDster

  • and New Yorker magazine overlap.

  • A bunch of people sent me this when it came out.

  • "It's 4 a.m.—maybe you'd sleep better if you bought some crap."

  • I was surprised at the TEDster/"Rugrats" overlap.

  • More than one person sent me this.

  • (Video) Didi Pickles: It's four o'clock in the morning.

  • Why on Earth are you making chocolate pudding?

  • Stu Pickles: Because I've lost control of my life.

  • (Laughter)

  • Rives: And then there was the lone TEDster

  • who was disgruntled I had overlooked

  • what he considers to be a classic.

  • (Video) Roy Neary: Get up, get up! I'm not kidding. Ronnie Neary: Is there an accident?

  • Roy: No, it's not an accident. You wanted to get out of the house anyway, right?

  • Ronnie: Not at four o'clock in the morning.

  • Rives: So that's "Close Encounters,"

  • and the main character is all worked up

  • because aliens, momentously,

  • have chosen to show themselves to earthlings

  • at four in the morning,

  • which does make that a very solid example.

  • Those were all really solid examples.

  • They did not get me any closer to understanding

  • why I thought I recognized this one particular poem.

  • But they followed the pattern. They played along.

  • Right? Four in the morning as this scapegoat hour

  • when all these dramatic occurrences

  • allegedly occur.

  • Maybe this was some kind of cliche

  • that had never been taxonomized before.

  • Maybe I was on the trail

  • of a new meme or something.

  • Just when things were getting pretty interesting,

  • things got really interesting.

  • TED.com launched, later that year,

  • with a bunch of videos from past talks,

  • including mine,

  • and I started receiving "four in the morning" citations

  • from what seemed like every time zone on the planet.

  • Much of it was content I never would have found

  • on my own if I was looking for it,

  • and I was not.

  • I don't know anybody with juvenile diabetes.

  • I probably would have missed the booklet,

  • "Grilled Cheese at Four O'Clock in the Morning."

  • (Laughter)

  • I do not subscribe to Crochet Today! magazine,

  • although it looks delightful. (Laughter)

  • Take note of those clock ends.

  • This is a college student's suggestion

  • for what a "four in the morning" gang sign

  • should look like.

  • People sent me magazine ads.

  • They took photographs in grocery stores.

  • I got a ton of graphic novels and comics.

  • A lot of good quality work, too:

  • "The Sandman," "Watchmen."

  • There's a very cute example here from "Calvin and Hobbes."

  • In fact, the oldest citation anybody sent in

  • was from a cartoon from the Stone Age.

  • Take a look.

  • (Video) Wilma Flintstone: Like how early?

  • Fred Flintstone: Like at 4 a.m., that's how early.

  • Rives: And the flip side of the timeline,

  • this is from the 31st century.

  • A thousand years from now,

  • people are still doing this.

  • (Video): Announcer: The time is 4 a.m.

  • (Laughter)

  • Rives: It shows the spectrum.

  • I received so many songs, TV shows, movies,

  • like from dismal to famous,

  • I could give you a four-hour playlist.

  • If I just stick to modern male movie stars,

  • I keep it to the length

  • of about a commercial.

  • Here's your sampler.

  • (Movie montage of "It's 4 a.m.")

  • (Laughter)

  • Rives: So somewhere along the line,

  • I realized I have a hobby

  • I didn't know I wanted,

  • and it is crowdsourced.

  • But I was also thinking what you might be thinking,

  • which is really, couldn't you do this

  • with any hour of the day?

  • First of all, you are not getting clips like that

  • about four in the afternoon.

  • Secondly, I did a little research.

  • You know, I was kind of interested.

  • If this is confirmation bias,

  • there is so much confirmation, I am biased.

  • Literature probably shows it best.

  • There are a couple three in the mornings in Shakespeare.

  • There's a five in the morning.

  • There are seven four in the mornings,

  • and they're all very dire.

  • In "Measure for Measure," it's the call time for the executioner.

  • Tolstoy gives Napoleon insomnia

  • at four in the morning right before battle

  • in "War and Peace."

  • Charlotte Brontë's "Jane Eyre" has got kind of

  • a pivotal four in the morning,

  • as does Emily Brontë's "Wuthering Heights."

  • "Lolita" has as a creepy four in the morning.

  • "Huckleberry Finn" has one in dialect.

  • Someone sent in H.G. Wells' "The Invisible Man."

  • Someone else sent in Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man."

  • "The Great Gatsby" spends the last

  • four in the morning of his life

  • waiting for a lover who never shows,

  • and the most famous wake-up in literature, perhaps,

  • "The Metamorphosis."

  • First paragraph, the main character wakes up

  • transformed into a giant cockroach,

  • but we already know, cockroach notwithstanding,

  • something is up with this guy.

  • Why? His alarm is set for four o'clock in the morning.

  • What kind of person would do that?

  • This kind of person would do that.

  • (Music)

  • (4 a.m. alarm clock montage)

  • (Video) Newcaster: Top of the hour. Time for the morning news.

  • But of course, there is no news yet.

  • Everyone's still asleep in their comfy, comfy beds.

  • Rives: Exactly.

  • So that's Lucy from the Peanuts,

  • "Mommie Dearest", Rocky, first day of training,

  • Nelson Mandela, first day in office,

  • and Bart Simpson, which combined with a cockroach

  • would give you one hell of a dinner party

  • and gives me yet another category,

  • people waking up, in my big old database.

  • Just imagine that your friends and your family

  • have heard that you collect, say, stuffed polar bears,

  • and they send them to you.

  • Even if you don't really, at a certain point,

  • you totally collect stuffed polar bears,

  • and your collection is probably pretty kick-ass.

  • And when I got to that point, I embraced it.

  • I got my curator on. I started fact checking,

  • downloading, illegally screen-grabbing.

  • I started archiving.

  • My hobby had become a habit,

  • and my habit gave me possibly the world's

  • most eclectic Netflix queue.

  • At one point, it went, "Guys and Dolls: The Musical,"

  • "Last Tango in Paris,"

  • "Diary of a Wimpy Kid,"