It’s a Friday evening, there’s nothing really happening in Oxford, apart from Fever Friday – which, let’s be honest, is only for masochists. Your next essay isn’t due until Monday: what do you do? As a high performing Oxford student, do you still persevere and do all of the reading on your two-page long list so that your essay for Monday becomes a beacon in your field of study? Alternatively, do you whip out your computer and put on an episode of ‘Friends’? After a long day of lectures and tutorials, perhaps the latter is more tempting. Is that the best way to unwind, though? As one episode turns into two, then three, then four, you’re suddenly sat there at 4 am contemplating your life decisions, your lonely state, and potential rustication.
Sometimes though, it seems impossible to resist the pull of the new season of ‘Sex Education’. It’s a reasonable argument; your essay won’t be at the level it could be at if you were in full focus. Yet, you can’t bring your A-game if your brain constantly keeps pulling your attention to whether Otis and Maeve, the star-crossed lovers, finally will fulfil their destiny and cycle off into the sunset together. Is it our own fault though? Just a few years ago we got a single episode of any series in a whole week, capping the amount of time spent watching the TV. DVD box sets were of course an alternative, but then again that’s a lot more effort than simply turning on your computer, typing ‘N’ on your search engine and clicking enter. Now on the other hand, there is an endless pool of content to indulge in, and self-control is needed to stop yourself from finding out what happens after the cliff-hanger at the end of every episode.
With the phenomenon of Netflix, hundreds of films and series have become available just a few clicks away at all times. You can even download them on your phone in case you find yourself in one of the few still Wi-fi deprived areas on this planet and you can’t face the terrifying threat of the boredom. There is constantly something to watch, constantly something to digest, and constantly some sort of entertainment.
What do we want to sacrifice to be entertained though? Will the constant scheming and manipulation of ‘Gossip Girl’ give you a better understanding of healthy human interaction? Will the zombies in ‘The Walking Dead’ warn you about the dangers of what too many all-nighters and junk food may result in? Or perhaps ‘You’ will teach you that stalking isn’t generally a good idea… Whichever way, are there not hundreds of more useful or rewarding things we could be doing, instead of drowning ourselves in meaningless shows?
With new studies showing the negative effects of binge watching on our sleep patterns, and its detriment to our physical and mental health, maybe we should all stop for a minute and consider. Spending too much time glaring at a screen can result in feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety, perhaps not too surprising when we all consider how we feel after a Sunday cocooning at home with a few empty bags of crisps or a pizza box.
Of course, this isn’t always the case, there are Attenborough’s enlightening documentaries, and heart-felt films which can be insightful and have been known to have a positive effect. What we watch isn’t always recycled Hollywood garbage, it’s the time we spend watching that catalyses negative thought patterns and often leaves us feeling gloomier than before.
My mother told me stories about life before this ‘binging culture’, about her and her brother’s Saturday ritual: watching the one children’s programme available on television during her youth. Even our generation may relate to a certain extent: we are perhaps the last to remember the time of VCR and televisions like big boxes, which children today would deem the remains of an ancient civilisation. In those days, there were a few Disney movies circling in every household, yet no child would get bored of them. The novelty of watching these stories unfold was a special ritual, perhaps most closely resembled by going to the cinema nowadays. A feeling very distinct and more meaningful than the present culture processing media at the same speed as fast food.
Could it be that the dawn of Netflix has led to an irreversible binging culture, ruining our mental health and killing our brain cells? Even though this might be a dramatic exaggeration, it could be beneficial to take a step back and try to rediscover the atmosphere of drive-in cinemas, of family movie nights, or of dates to the movies. Actually taking the time, watching something we can appreciate, whatever that may be, for different people.