“Do you want to meet up for a coffee this afternoon?” I quickly tap into Facebook Messenger. A few moments pass before I get a response. “Can you do this evening instead? I’m just trying to finish House of Cards.”
Binge-watching is a weird phenomenon. The compulsion to watch multiple episodes (and in many cases seasons) of a specific TV show in quick succession has skyrocketed in recent years with the rise of on-demand streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Instant Video.
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When House of Cards season two landed on Netflix last Friday, it was like watching the 100-meter dash at the Olympics. Someone had fired the opening gun and everyone was sprinting for the finish line. Before you could blink, people were pushing their chests through the tape and raising their arms in a moment of triumph. Finishing all thirteen episodes was suddenly desirable. As one of my colleagues posted on Twitter: “House of Cards, season two achievement unlocked. Now to wait another year.”
This form of binge-watching has made me feel increasingly isolated. Many of my friends powered through the latest political schemes and exploits of Frank Underwood so they could take part in the ‘water cooler‘ conversations that always follow. Although much of this debate has now shifted to Twitter and Facebook, it holds the same place in society and unfolds in a similar fashion. Everyone wants to talk about their favorite TV show and in the absence of a slower, methodical weekly broadcast or release, that means racing through every episode that’s been put out so far on Netflix.
If you choose to wait or watch the show at your own pace, you risk stumbling upon spoilers or being unable to participate in some of these discussions. It’s become an ‘all or nothing’ situation for me: embrace binge-watching and keep up with everyone else, or accept that I just can’t engage in those conversations.
On Valentine’s Day, that choice was presented to me yet again. If I wanted to catch up and talk about House of Cards next week, this was my window of opportunity. I had to really commit and embrace the binge-watching phenomenon. I still needed to finish up the first season, admittedly, but given it was only thirteen episodes in length – I knew I still had a chance.
For a few hours I settled in and watched the show, determined to catch up or make some sort of headway. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, I quickly gave up. I like watching TV, but I’ve never been compelled to sit indoors and watch an entire season from start to finish. After a few episodes, I grew restless and my mind wandered. Watching felt like a chore, not an addiction.
This reaction has led to what I can only describe as ‘anti-binging’. The exact opposite of what everyone seems to be doing on Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and other on-demand streaming services. I still watch TV, but I’m picking older shows that no-one is talking about and watching them at my own pace.
Why? Because I’ve accepted that I just don’t have the time, or the patience to sit down and power through TV shows like everyone else. With new episodes for TV titans such as Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead airing each week, I know I’ll never be able to keep up with the masses.
But that’s okay. The shows I’m watching are still critically acclaimed and captivating to watch. Given they were originally broadcast at least a few years ago, they’re also cheaper and easier to find – they’re often on Netflix (which isn’t too expensive at the moment) and I don’t have to sign up for an expensive cable TV package that includes content from AMC, HBO and other US networks.
(It also discourages piracy, which is another rabbit hole I’ve simply never had the time or patience for.)
I would love to know if other people are doing the same. I made a similar decision about video games after graduating from college; I realized that I would never have the time to keep up with all the latest releases, so I just stopped trying. They’ll still be there whenever I get round to them and if they’re well-made, their quality won’t have diminished with the passing of time.
Yes, it’s disappointing and sometimes alienating to know that when I finish what I think is a thought-provoking TV show, I won’t be able to discuss it with my friends, colleagues or family. Or I could, but in most cases they won’t have been watching it at the same time, and therefore won’t be as excited or keen to discuss their thoughts about it. That’s the flip-side of on-demand content.
I can still pick up the odd new TV show – but new episodes have to be released on a weekly basis, as I just can’t bring myself to binge-watch Orange is the New Black or any other Netflix original. It’s not to say that I won’t watch those shows at all either – it’ll just take me a little longer than most of my peers.
This brings me back to ‘anti-binging’. If you’re doing the same, let me know. Maybe we can set up a quasi-book club and agree to only talk about these TV shows once we’ve all caught up. Oh boy, that makes me feel old.