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Are You in a Codependent Relationship with Netflix?

Creator:
Published:
May 20, 2024
February 25, 2021
Watch out if you're binge-watching Netflix and other media outlets lately. Here's the problem with binging.|Watch out if you're binge-watching Netflix and other media outlets lately. Here's the problem with binging.

Netflix has conquered the zeitgeist (again). This time with The Social Dilemma, a documentary about how social media strategically mines your data to manipulate the content you consume. Is this news? After all, Netflix does it too.

By the time you blink, Netflix will have released another movie, documentary, or series that everybody will be talking about. “Own the zeitgeist” is the billion-dollar media empire’s business model, and they do so by taking dominion over people’s minds, hearts, and time.

And they’re not alone, as every content company is trying to do the same thing. It doesn’t help that TV is so good right now — it’s easy to assume that it’s all good for us.

Watching Tiger King during a marathon session at the start of lockdown is one thing. But constantly consuming content with the same dependency we consume air is something else entirely.

A 2019 Business Insider article reported that Netflix users spend an average of two hours a day watching Netflix. While this data is pre-pandemic (we expect it went up during lockdown), two hours is only eight percent of your day — so nbd, right?

Well, the devil is in the details. Two hours is just the time spent watching Netflix. With the proliferation of traditional TV and other platforms like Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Max, Disney+ and beyond, people aren’t watching just one service. All together, the average American watches closer to three hours of screened entertainment per day.

Now, if a stranger offered you 20 hours of free time a week, what would you use it for? Because the chances are good that right now, you’re spending it streaming shows.

But is binging Netflix really a problem? Or is this just an easy gripe on which to pin society’s ills? (I’m targeting Netflix for the same reason people target McDonald’s when the issue is fast food — as the biggest culprit, they are the principal prototype of the problem.)

Well, there’s evidence to show that binge-watching is an addictive behavior that affects the brain similar to alcohol, drugs, sex, or collecting Pokémon cards. There’s also the ancillary physical health effects, because you’re probably not practicing Pilates and sipping a protein shake while binging Breaking Bad (if you’re like me, it’s more like pizza and beer on the couch).

There are social effects as well: a 2018 Streaming Observer study found that people spend twice as much time on Netflix as they do with their family. And let’s be honest, even when they are with family it’s probably watching Netflix or something else. What happens when you spend more time with Frank Underwood than your own old man? Hint: it’s probably not good. For that matter, what about relationships, romantic or otherwise, that are not defined by shared values, but a shared love of Game of Thrones?

Is this all there is to life? Just think, 45 years from now, when your grandkids ask what you did during 2020 — they’ll be writing reports titled “The Worst Year Ever” — you don’t want your answer to be: “It was soooo intense — I rewatched Ozark in one weekend!” It’s not exactly a hot take to say there are better things we can be doing with our time.

In our capitalist system, we tend to think of consumption as something we do, but it is also something done to us. When I consume Netflix, my time (and whatever I could be doing with it) is being consumed by Netflix. It’s the ultimate codependent relationship, which is bad enough when it’s with a person, but is worse when it’s with a brand.

So what’s the solution? Rather than quit cold turkey, scale back your TV watching and replace it with something else. Read a book, volunteer, go for a walk, workout, practice an instrument, try to take over the world — you know, follow your interests. If you want to replace that dopamine hit, do something to build up relationships with people you love.

Also, consider how much time you spend watching TV passively while doing something else. It starts by thinking, “Welp, I’m eating dinner, might as well watch The Mandalorian” — and then five hours later, your evening is shot and you’re looking at a sleep-deprived day tomorrow. Multiply that by seven days a week and you can see how it can become a problem. What else can you be doing in the 15 minutes it takes to eat dinner? Maybe pick up the phone and (gasp!) call a friend or loved one?

But beating the binge takes more than following a “do this, not that” checklist — we need to change our mindset. Why do we binge? Simple: because it’s fun. Everyone loves escaping to a world besides our own and watching our favorite character’s fictional lives.

But binging isn’t an escape; it’s living somewhere else. And it’s not watching fictional character’s lives — it’s living vicariously through them. No matter how much I watch The Witcher — or for that matter how much time I spend in the gym — I’m not going to turn into Geralt of Rivia (even Henry Cavill won’t, he just plays the guy on TV).

Let’s be honest, a lot of life can be tedious and boring, no matter how many hobbies we take on or how many roses we stop to smell. Instead of filling those moments with more external, distracting content, it’s better to take the more difficult journey inward — to learn how to be more content with yourself.

Contentment gets a bad rap in our “love the grind” culture, but being content doesn’t mean being unambitious — it means finding purpose, value, and even beauty in the small things and quiet moments in our ordinary lives, and not just filling them with the latest binge-worthy show.

Yes, Netflix and other streamers are pretty great, but they are only one minor part of the big, beautiful human experience. Our free time is a precious and finite resource, so let’s make sure we’re using it mindfully.

Creators:
Hunter Cates
Published:
May 20, 2024
February 25, 2021
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