It’s a Friday evening, there’s nothing really happening in Oxford, apart from Friday Fever (which, let’s be honest, only masochists go to) and your next essay isn’t due until Monday. What do you do? As an over-achieving Oxford student, do you still persevere and do all of the reading on your two-page long reading list in the vain hope that next week’s essay becomes a beacon of excellence in your field of study? Or, alternatively, do you whip out your computer and put on an episode of ‘Friends’? After a long day of lectures and tutorials, perhaps the second alternative is more tempting. Is that the best way to unwind though? One episode turns into two, then three, then four and then you’re sat there at 4 am anxiously contemplating your life decisions, loneliness and potentially imminent rustication.
Sometimes though, it seems impossible to resist the temptation of the new season of ‘Sex Education’ on Netflix. You reasonably argue to yourself that you can’t bring your A-game if your brain constantly keeps pulling your attention to whether Otis and Meave, the star-crossed lovers, finally will fulfil their destiny and cycle off into the sunset together. Is it our own fault though? And where did this habit come from? Just a few years back you got to see one single episode on television in a whole week, capping the amount of time spent watching a series. DVD box sets were, of course, an alternative, but then again that’s more of an effort than simply turning on your computer, typing in ‘N’ in your search engine and clicking enter. Now, on the other hand, there is an endless pool of series 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 series and movies have become available just a few clicks away anywhere, anytime. 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 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 in ‘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. Either way, are there not hundreds of more useful or rewarding things we could be doing, rather than drowning ourselves in meaningless shows?
With new studies showing the negative effects of binge-watching on our sleep patterns, and linking it to a 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 results in feelings of loneliness and anxiety; 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 heart-felt movies and David Attenborough’s enlightening documentaries which are insightful and can even have a positive effect. The content of what we watch isn’t always recycled Hollywood garbage, it is the sheer amount of time we spend watching them which 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 of watching the one children’s programme available on television during her youth. Even our generation may relate to this to some extent as we are perhaps the last to remember the time of VCR players and televisions made like big boxes, which children today would deem the remains of an ancient civilisation. In those days, there were a few Disney movies rotating 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 in which movies and series are processed at the same speed as fast food.
Could it be that the dawn of Netflix has led to an irreversible binging culture, killing our mental health and our brain cells? Even though this is a dramatic exaggeration, I believe it could be beneficial to take a step back and try to find the atmosphere of drive-in cinemas, of family movie nights or dates to the movies and actually watch something we can appreciate, whatever that may be for different people.