They say the first step to fixing a problem is admitting that one exists, so here it goes: My name is Kaetan and I’m addicted to binge-watching. It has isolated me, cost me money, made me sick, and destroyed my ambition. I’m trying to quit but I still have one more season of The Wire and I need to see what happens with Omar.
It may sound like I’m setting up some elaborate joke, but I actually had to allow my cable Internet subscription to lapse in order to write this. You see, I started watching The Wire last week (I know, I’m late as hell). It’s an excellent show set in one of my favorite towns. I was hooked. Once I become captivated by a show, I’m compelled to see what happens next. As I spent hours engrossed by the plot, the line between fantasy and reality became blurred. I woke up in a cold sweat this morning because I dreamed Chris and Snoop were after me for snitchin’.
The craving for more is overwhelming. One quick episode in the morning becomes three. I convince myself to watch one before I do any work, telling myself that if I do it now I’ll be more productive later. I lay down to enjoy an episode before bed and before I know it the sun is pouring in through my window. I’ve watched four seasons of The Wire in under a week. That’s 48 hours of gritty, Dickensian Baltimore drama in a week! If it was work, I would have made overtime. Obviously, with all of this time wasted, there leaves little for friends, family, work, and even personal hygiene.
As someone with slightly more than a passing familiarity with drug culture, this behavior is eerily reminiscent of someone in the throes of addiction. The compulsion, the lying to yourself and others to satisfy it, and the neglect of personal and social well-being are all symptoms these conditions share.
It wasn’t all that long ago that this behavior was impossible. Television shows came out once a week, during their season. Either you saw them live or you caught a rerun. Whenever you watched, it was usually one episode at a time. The occasional marathon existed, but only the most devout fans or slothful layabouts actually watched the whole thing. Also, the selection was never so vast. There were only so many prime-time slots, and only so many networks with enough cash to produce quality programming to fill them. Yet even at a time when television was 90 percent reruns, commercials, and filler, most of us spent hours a day vacantly staring into its glow, mouths agape.
Now, you can’t escape your favorite shows. You can watch anything you want, whenever and wherever you want to watch it — full seasons of every show ever made on every screen, from the living room TV to your laptop. Even if you decide to take a stroll to the park to get away, they’re still there lurking in your pocket, on your cellphone.
Even considering my demons, I still regard the technology and art behind the streaming video explosion as beneficial. Quality shows are both enjoyable and an important part of our culture. Broader access to cultural products and platforms is definitely something to celebrate. Demand for content has forced telecoms to improve the infrastructure and tech firms to become more innovative while creating opportunities for artists.
For me (and I suspect I’m not alone), the struggle is to find a balance and maintain control. At the very least, recognizing that watching a screen eats up an unhealthy portion of my free time is probably a good first step. Understanding that spending time watching shows is time that I’m not moving, socializing, or being productive is probably better still. While I could never advocate abstinence, like with alcohol and narcotics one must remain vigilant in maintaining discipline in one’s video consumption. It’s a cheap escape that’s easy to get lost in.
Now, if you’d please excuse me, I’d like to watch The Wire’s season five premiere before I head to work.