Binge-watching is a habit that millions of Americans have embraced, but now some researchers are warning that hours spent in front of the TV could have some negative side-effects. So is binge-watching potentially detrimental?
Big streaming companies like Netflix certainly don’t think so. In fact, Netflix encourages users to enjoy the binge. It’s a guilty little pleasure that’s a great way to share an experience with a friend. In fact, Netflix says that 6 in 10 streamers regularly engage in binge-watching, which the company defines as watching between two and six episodes of a show in a single sitting.
On the surface, there’s no fundamental difference between a regular “couch potato” who stares at the TV while reclining on the couch for hours at a time and a Netflix binge-watcher who stares at a TV while sitting on that same couch. And all that physical inactivity simply isn’t good for you, especially if you’ve spent all day sitting at your desk. Sedentary behavior, if it becomes an ingrained habit, can increase your health risks for diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
However, is it the case that binge-watching is the same as being a couch potato? Given the fact that many people stream content to their tablet or smartphone, it could be the case that people are watching a show while moving around, such as running on a home treadmill. As long as you’re standing, stretching and doing some walking around between episodes, you’re reducing the worst of the health risks.
OK, but what if you binge-watch alone? According to survey data from entertainment research firm Marketcast, 56% of people binge-watch alone and 98% binge-watch at home. That would seem to suggest that binge-watching is largely a solo activity that you’re not engaging in while in public.
But, again, facts can be deceiving. The whole point of binge-watching certain shows is to catch up with what your friends, family or work colleagues are talking about, right? How many times have you heard people talking about “Game of Thrones” and realized that you’d better get caught up if you want to be able to have a conversation with them? Some shows – like “Orange is the New Black” – become part of the pop culture world, so having a basic understanding of what’s happening in the show actually has positive (not negative) social implications.
There’s something about the binge that makes it addictive. You start out saying that you’re only planning on watching two or three episodes, and end up watching all 12 episodes. That’s a potential sign of dangerous addictive behavior. And another sign of addictive behavior is something that’s known as “Netflix cheating.” That’s when you promise to watch a show with someone, but then binge-watch more than you agreed to.
But as long as you can limit yourself to a certain number of episodes, you should be OK. Just as there’s nothing wrong about getting wrapped up in a mystery novel or spy thriller and reading more chapters than you planned, there’s nothing inherently wrong about watching more episodes than you planned.
Whose side is Netflix really on?
The problem, really, is that the big streaming services have a vested interest in getting you to binge-watch. The more you binge-watch, the more you establish a relationship with Netflix, and the harder it is to say goodbye to your Netflix subscription.
Say, for example, you promise to give up Netflix as soon as you make it through every single episode of “Orange Is the New Black.” But then, just as you are about to finish the final season, you happen to read an article seductively titled something like, “Great shows coming soon to Netflix.” You decide to try out one or two of these shows, and before you know it, you’re trapped in another binge-watching cycle. And so it goes, over and over again.
Do you have a problem with binge-watching?
It’s this chronic binge-watching that might lead to problems. In fact, a more severe form of binge-watching is something that’s perhaps best known as marathon binge-watching. That’s when you decide to binge-watch not just a single series – but every season of that series, ever.
Believe it or not, but people have actually done studies on this, trying to determine how many hours you would need to spend binge-watching every episode of every season of a certain series. If you tried to watch all seven seasons of “The West Wing,” it would take you five full days. Do you really have five days of your life to devote to that show?
So perhaps it’s time to ask yourself several important questions to see if you have a problem with binge-watching:
- Have you stopped enjoying the show you’re watching?
- Are you neglecting household tasks or your studies?
- Are you canceling social events to binge-watch a show?
If you answer “Yes” to any of these three questions, then binge-watching is detrimental. In the first case, it means that you’re watching TV for the sake of watching TV, and not because you’re deriving any real pleasure from it. In the second case, it means that all of that time spent watching TV is starting to intrude into your “real life.” And, finally, if you’re canceling social events to watch TV, then guess what? That’s basically the definition of anti-social behavior and you might have a problem.
As you can see, there’s no easy way to tell if binge-watching is detrimental or not. As with most things in life, the key to success is moderation. Just as there’s nothing wrong with occasionally having a few beers with your colleagues, there’s nothing wrong with occasionally binge-watching a few of your favorite shows. However, when behaviors persist over a long enough period of time, that’s when they start to become addictive. And addiction means that the brain starts to crave more of it, in order to achieve the same effect.
As a golden rule, you should think about how many hours of TV you’re watching each week and try to keep it within manageable levels. Don’t overdo it, and make sure that binge-watching a show is not just an excuse to have a tub of popcorn every night!