It’s difficult to imagine a time when Internet streaming services such as Amazon Prime Instant Video, ShowTime, and Netflix didn’t exist; how the hell did we keep up with the latest television shows, celebrity gossip, and silver screen moments when we had a limited amount of channels to watch? Entering this age of streaming is a little like waking up as a child on Christmas morning; everything is laid out for us, and we have to decide whether we want to tear it all open now or pace ourselves throughout the day. Streaming services are empowering our viewing, giving us that option to binge or not to binge, and aiding and abetting our spare time. Media consumption will never be the same again, but is that a bad thing?
The incredible rise of binge watching and our emotional attachment to the screen
While streaming services have introduced a whole new world of content to us they have also changed the way in which we consume television series and films. The term ‘binge watching’ has existed since the 1990s but has only recently become a part of modern vernacular; the rise of Internet streaming services has given us series upon series in one go, and we no longer need to wait for our next fix. We binge, and it feels kind of good to shut out the world for hours at a time. So, why has binge watching become such a huge deal, and why do we all regard it as a guilty pleasure? Modern culture has become very much obsessed with the now; if we can have it NOW, then, well, we want it NOW. Services such as Netflix have made that immediacy possible and we are, to put it bluntly, spoiled rotten and a little out of control.
If there’s one thing that binge watching encourages more than anything else it’s an emotional attachment to the characters we see before us; we are dependent upon their narrative, and will actively ignore the world around us if it means being able to spend just one more hour in their company. In some, extreme, cases, binge-watching can cause the lines between fiction and reality to blur. We’re so drawn into the story that is being played out for us that we become intertwined with its characters and outcomes; while we all wish we could escape from real life from time to time, is this sort of media consumption healthy? There would those that would argue it isn’t, but for the time being we’re hooked. After all, what else would you discuss with your colleagues around the water cooler if you couldn’t talk about the latest Internet series?
Binge watching is perhaps the only way to keep up with your contemporaries, too; we binge, therefore we are. Of course, while binge watching is seen, by some, as a great way to while away a lazy weekend, for others it’s a way of life. The popularity of Netflix’s most recent smash, ‘Making a Murderer’ goes a long way to highlight this dependency on the next installment. Despite being advised that slow digestion could improve their viewing experience, and allow them to better understand the facts of the case as they were presented, many viewers chose to consume the docuseries in a single sitting.
The trouble with this method of viewing a series is that it tends to whip the public into a frenzy; with no time to process and appreciate the information shown to us we apparently lose control. Heroes are made, villains are reviled, and it becomes very difficult to observe anything with objectivity anymore. You only need to look at the backlash that surrounded attorney Ken Kratz to understand how our minds work when subjected to such an overdose. Ken Kratz was tasked with presenting evidence for the prosecution at Steven Avery’s trial, yet is now the object of the public’s vitriol. Indeed, when the number of abusive tweets sent to you have to have a top 50 you know that you’ve done something wrong – either that, or common sense has been momentarily disbanded.
The argument surrounding binge watching, and the damaging effects of consuming content to such an extreme, is unlikely to be resolved, or dismissed, any time soon. While some will maintain that being able to watch what we want, when we want, is a novelty that we’re simply getting to grips with, others may liken such habits to an addiction. Indeed, when the lines between reality, fiction, and anything in between are blurred so drastically you have to wonder how healthy our viewing habits have become. What’s for certain is this; we’re not done watching yet, so don’t you dare cancel our subscription…