Netflix and I have a complicated relationship. I like to call it the devil, endearingly of course. It has crazy seduction skills; and honestly doesn’t it feel kind of sinful to indulge in something that almost demands laziness?
I would like to start by saying that I love Netflix. It is a fantastic resource that allows you to access thousands of TV shows and movies legally on one website. It’s crazy that we have the technology today with which I can decide that I want to watch all six seasons of Gossip Girl and do so without even having to leave my apartment to get a DVD.
With that said, I do have a beef with Netflix. I discovered it during my freshman year of college. I used my friend’s password and was instantly brought to its never-ending, magical world. When I first went on the site, I was overwhelmed. There were so many options that I didn’t know where to begin. Should I start with Pretty Little Liars? Seems dark. What about the Office? I had seen a few episodes already. I had always wanted to watch Mad Men, so I decided to try it.
I began watching one episode a day, which turned into a couple a day, which turned into watching Mad Men during my free time and in the background while I was doing other things like homework and cleaning. It seemed harmless in the beginning, but a lot of my time was taken up by Don Draper and Peggy. It became a habit, one which made me tired. For some reason watching more than one in a row made my energy drop, but at the same time I didn’t want to stop watching. The feeling of being somewhat dependent worried me, so I dropped the site for a couple of years.
A few months ago, I got ahold of a new password and decided to use it. I remembered how I felt about watching Mad Men so I decided to keep myself in check. I noticed the same pattern emerging. I would watch more than one in a row and when I did, my energy levels would lower and I even felt kind of depressed. My most recent binge was Gossip Girl. I loved the drama and scandals. I loved that it made me think, Wow, Chuck’s life is pretty messed up, Blair is so dramatic. My life is WAY less complicated. I would get flung into this world of sparkles and deception in Manhattan and when I would come out of finishing an episode (or four), I would consistently feel tired and less enthusiastic about what I was doing with the rest of my day.
When I talked to my friends about it, they agreed. Binge watching TV sounds like the perfect, easy relaxer, but it has other effects as well.
A study recently came out from the University of Texas at Austin that reinforced my suspicions and also made me realize that I am not the only one. They found that sadness correlated with TV binge watching. According to the report, “The more an individual was lonely and depressed, the more episodes the individual watched.” They also said binge watching can cause serious health issues, similar to other addiction problems.
The authors of the study explained, “When binge-watching becomes rampant, viewers may neglect their work and their relationships with others may suffer. Physical fatigue and health problems such as obesity and other health problems are a cause for concern.”
When I thought about the study, it was kind of the same way that people feel about cigarettes, “I know it’s bad for me, but I don’t really care.” It’s fun to watch TV and go through the story of a show. It’s fun to sit in someone else’s shoes for awhile. It’s fun to escape my problems and delve into someone else’s.
That’s when it hit me, binging is a fun activity sometimes. It’s fun to indulge and just go all in. But the problems arose when watching it was an escape or a crutch. I found that the more I watched TV, the less excited I was about my life. I noticed myself becoming irritable and sluggish. Sure, I’m not Blaire Waldorf or Serena van der Woodsen, but what can I take from the show to make me excited and in love with my life?
I don’t have a sure answer quite yet, but I’m working on it. Sure it’s fun watching an episode and being brought to a new world. But by being completely engrossed in someone else’s world, can you lose touch with your own? Not in a way that you don’t connect with a reality at all, more in the way that reality seems less interesting, less perfect, less a penthouse apartment of the ultra-exclusive Fifth Avenue. I believe it can.
Honestly, I still do watch TV. I do need to rest my brain, and sometimes the steps of Constance are a great place to visit for an episode. But I have found my limit. For me, my life is way more exciting than any Van der Woodsen or Waldorf, and this is why: mine is real. It is fun to rest your brain and watch people act in front of you, but it’s infinitely more fun (and kind of scary) to be so invested in your own life.