Achieving Balanced Binging
The credits from episode eight, season three of my favorite Netflix show, Stranger Things, appeared on the screen. My summer felt devoid of all things fun. I grappled with empty belly syndrome. Nine hours of tv magic were over so quickly.
Prior to watching the final precious episode, my coworkers huffed every time I came in the lab interrupting their discussions of the main plot points. My choice to prolong the ending was not popular. When the glorious weekend arrived to finish episode eight, the anticipation motivated me through grueling hours of production work. Returning on Monday, despite my hollow longing for more story, I marched into the lab ready to discuss all the fan theories for season four. A general we all moved on to something else attitude dampened my spirits.
I was way behind my coworkers. Nine hours of television in one month’s time is drastically below the national average. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 78.4% of the civilian population admit to watching television every day compared to 17.5% who read daily. People are happy with this choice for entertainment; research done on streaming service subscribers show that 73% of adults do not feel any remorse or sadness for binge watching shows late into the night.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a great Netflix original same as the next person. With so many movies and shows available through streaming services, reading could become a thing of the past. Why should people read when we have access to great stories, cheaper content, and more relatable experiences? The numbers are trending, for American adults in 2019 reading is 15.5 minutes of our entire day. Watching our favorite stories averages to 2 hours and 50 minutes. The choice between tv and a book is chemical, our brains tell us we like to view more.
Watching a high impact story, like a crime thriller or drama, connects viewers more closely to the outcome because when we see live action images our brain stores them away as something that happened to us. The scenes on a screen become our memories. This does not happen when we read. The phenomenon called involvement is significantly enhanced when we share that memory with other people who watched the show. With 150 million subscribers to Netflix and 100 million Amazon Prime account holders, we are bound to find someone to share that story memory with. Compare those numbers to NYT bestseller, Where the Crawdads Sing, which sold 1.1 million copies in its first six month, there are just more show watching friends than book buddies.
But if everyone is watching Hulu, are we all okay? Per research done by leading psychologist Dr. Judy Rosenberg and a group study conducted through the University of Toledo, binge watching is not sustainable for our health. Binge watching releases the happy chemicals in our brain. When we feel happy, we partake in more of the same. Pressing the next episode button becomes easy and guilt free. An inability to satiate the dopamine released in our brains when we watch just one more thrilling episode makes this form of entertainment dangerous. Binge watching contributes to us becoming anxious, stressed, and isolated from our peers. Watching stories for hours is a lot of content, and not much time to process.
Reading is the compromise. Our brains need a healthy balance between the powerful, convicting images on the screen and the imaginary, wonderful characters we long to meet from the page. Both medias offer so much to consumers, yet it is up to us to control our consumption. With a little dopamine discipline, we can adjust the leisure time scale to tip from fifteen minutes of reading a day to an hour. Give your brain some Netflix and chill time before you become an unsatisfied binger.