Who doesn’t like to just sit back and relax and watch an enjoyable movie or TV show? That sounds especially appealing with finals coming around. Well, what about binge-watching? In 2013 Netflix, through Harris Interactive, conducted a survey of “3,078 adults aged 18 and older, of whom 1,496 streamed TV shows at least once a week.” They found that binge watching is usually done modestly and in moderation, with Netflix’s survey stating that viewers watched an “average of 2.3 episodes per sitting.”
I know what you’re thinking: Well binge watching doesn’t seem all that bad. You may be right, but the statistic that Netflix is giving you is trying to trick you. You’re all smart and know that an average is the mean of all of the results of something divided by how many times it happened. So Netflix gave us an average; why is this tricky?
One simple reason, outliers. Outliers are when a really large number or small number is way out of the normal frequency. For example, from what I have seen normal people do not watch 2-3 episodes of something every time they watch Netflix. Usually they may watch one movie or one episode of something one day and another day they will watch all of season 3 of Game of Thrones in one sitting. So 2-3 may be an average but that does not mean they watched 2-3 per sitting.
Now Netflix may not giving us enough information to make a decision, but why do we binge watch anyway? Well, Professor Rubert Kubey of Rutger University is considered an expert of the matter. In his Washington Post article “Television Addiction Is No Mere Metaphor,” he stated “It’s like some people like to drink with their drinking buddies, smoke with their smoking buddies or shoot up heroine with their heroine buddies. You have this common experience now.” This really is fighting for the notion that binge watching and an over saturation of television watching is an addiction, not just a fun activity.
This is not an uncommon thing. With so many options just a keystroke away it is becoming harder and harder not to watch more. The worst part is that if you are watching a show such as Game of Thrones, your social media and most likely one or two of your friends will be coming close to spoiling it so you have to “catch up.” One of the scariest parts of television addiction is that so many people do it openly that it is not considered a bad thing. I know from personal experience and from others’ stories that there have been some close to sleepless nights where Netflix was the cause. Sadly, your boss doesn’t care if you “finally caught up with House of Cards.” If you are performing poorly at work and school, you will be shown little sympathy.
So, why do we binge watch? Well, why Netflix is so appealing and why are we so drawn to it as a society is probably the better question to ask. First, Time Magazine stated that a movie ticket’s “average price in 2014 was $8.17.” On average only one movie was barely two dollars less than an entire month of a Netflix subscription. Netflix, for a movie or TV lover, is pretty inexpensive.
Second, Netflix will periodically ask if you are still watching. In the middle of a great episode or movie Neflix will sometimes ask “Are you still watching __?” Of course if you are it brings you back to full attention and you click “Yes” so you may continue to indulge. This makes you pay attention and draws you back in if you aren’t giving it all of your attention.
Third, auto-play. Recently there has been a rise in the “auto-play” feature starting the next episode. This means less effort and if I like the show it forces me to keep watching unless I exit out or stop the auto play, which if you are interested in the show incentivizes you to watch more. Netflix is an evil genius that nobody recognizes as a true evil.
Now to really show why we watch, we can just look at addiction, since for the most part people have generally shown a closely resembled reaction to binge watching as people who get high. Netflix employed the help of anthropologist Grant McCraken to find more about binge watching. Grant found that “76 percent reported bingeing as a welcome refuge from their busy lives…” This is the same thing that drug abusers do. They want more and they chase the good feeling. The scariest part is that if it is the same, drug users become desensitized and need more and more to get that same high, so do binge watchers do the same?