You’re doing it. I’m doing it. Everyone is doing it. Especially now that summer is here, I feel pretty safe saying an increased number of us find ourselves participating in such an act: we sit down on the couch, either alone or with our friends, make ourselves comfortable, and then we sit for hours on end, snacking on who knows what and pausing only for the quickest of bathroom breaks.
Yes, I’m talking about binge watching.
About two months ago, Newsweek published to their fancy new website an in-depth story on the addiction and art of watching a TV series from beginning to end in a relatively short amount of time. Author Andrew Romano admits to having watched all of “Lost,” nearly 120 episodes, in a mere 30 days to “catch up” for the show’s finale in 2010. He and his wife watched nearly six full seasons of a show that spanned about seven years. That’s approximately 4,914 minutes of television. Or 81.9 hours. Which is almost 3.5 days.
As a self-proclaimed Lostie myself, Romano’s behavior doesn’t surprise me, but not just because I know how good that particular show is. I proudly tell my friends I watched the new season of “Arrested Development” in under 10 hours on the day it showed up on Netflix. I absolutely love getting my friends hooked on shows with marathon viewing sessions. Last fall I successfully wrangled two of my roommates and the boy I was dating at the time into loving “Community.” Since reading Newsweek’s story back in May, every time I watch a show on Netflix or Hulu, I think about how difficult it can be to just watch one episode.
According to media studies of professor Robert Kubey and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the pattern of binge watching mirrors addictive drug use. The same thing that happens to people’s brains when using habit-forming drugs happens to us when watching television. When we stop watching, it’s like the happiness goes away and we’re left in a slightly depressed state. So instead of facing the world, we’ve trained ourselves to just keep going.
Entertainment Weekly writer Mark Harris took an anti-binge watching stance, specifically in response to “Arrested Development.” He said binge watching takes out the possibility of contemplation. There is something to be said for getting to know characters as you watch each week and not in a flurry of episodes each day. The “breathing room” between episodes, as he calls the wait each week, allows viewers to more fully appreciate what they just watched.
So why in the world is it considered an accomplishment, something to be proud of, to watch a ridiculous amount of a show in a ridiculously short amount of time?
Having completed four years of college, and with only one semester left before I graduate, I know now more than ever it’s the little victories in life that keep things interesting. I revel in the fact that I still have 27 free meals left from Chick-Fil-A. I love when a poster I designed gets lots of notes on Tumblr. I feel like I hit the jackpot because my best friend Ben doesn’t mind when I fall asleep on his shoulder.
And for some reason, I, along with many others, consider watching hours upon hours of shows a victory.
That sounds quite depressing, to call watching half a season of “Lost” in two days a victory. But at least for me, having the time to sit down and simply watch episodes of the same show all in a row is a sign that my life has slowed down, at least for a little while. And like I said, it’s the little victories.
So you tell me, why do you think people consider binge watching an accomplishment? Tweet @UniverseOpinion or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org — it will give me something to read while Netflix loads the next episode of “Lost.” (Yeah, I’m in the middle of a re-watch of season three.)