Pressing play on Netflix may be killing more than just time

By Samantha Reilly

Photo by Rachel Kuipers

Absorbing large amounts of information for hours at a time is a tedious and straining job. Yet we do it voluntarily, sitting ourselves down and focusing intensely, stepping into a personal cone of silence because what we’re doing is all that matters. It takes determination and unyielding devotion to accomplish this feat. And Netflix has brought it to a new level.

The concept of binge-watching is relatively new, but the idea of a marathon has been around for decades. Binge-watching emerged with the rise of Netflix’s online-streaming feature, introduced in 2007, according to an article published in the Feb. 3 issue of The New Yorker.

Netflix has recently sentenced its subscribers to an indefinite lifestyle of marathon-ing by adding the auto-play feature, which automatically queues the following episode of whatever show you might be lost in at the moment.

The phenomenon of binge-watching has grown to such a large extent that Netflix set out to define it through a survey administered by Harris Interactive in 2013. The consensus: two consecutive episodes marks you as a binge-watcher, three to six do the same, and any more than that was just too embarrassing to report. What else? 73 percent of watchers felt pretty good about it, and reported having positive feelings towards binge-watching.

Senior Spanish major Kanaya Oke said she slipped into a Netflix-obsessed-alter ego at the release of new “Orange is the New Black” episodes. Oke devoured the second season, all 13 hours, of the Netflix series in about two days.

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Bryce Robinson, a sophomore business major, recently finished watching the entire series of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” for the second time. Robinson said it is embarrassing how quickly he watched the show – 93 episodes in only one week.

“I burn through TV shows,” said Robinson. “I binge-watch.”

Students like Robinson pay the price, though. Oke said that while binge-watching, she “[doesn’t] necessarily know what time of day it is, [and is] always really tired.”

Oke also said that at one point, Netflix nearly kept her from getting to work on time.

The damaging effects of binge-watching are as real as the drama on the shows themselves. So real, in fact, that they have become a topic of interest for several researchers, such as Robert Potter, director of the Institute for Communication Research at Indiana University.

Potter told The Huffington Post that binge-watching is emotionally and physically taxing. The people behind the scenes of your favorite shows take advantage of the fact that you thrive on clinging to your laptop until that cliffhanger is unhung, no matter how many sleepless nights it takes you to find out.

Potter also said that binge-watching is “similar to any addictive behavior … If you use something — alcohol, drugs, TV — to help you block out problems, you almost always feel worse later.”

Tami Bergan, coordinator of fitness programs at this university, can speak to the physical effects of a typical Netflix session.

“Long periods of immobility have negative implications on several systems of the body … muscles become weak and shortened (inflexible) and without pressure on the bones they absorb less calcium and become less dense making them more brittle,” said Bergan. “Being inactive virtually negatively affects every system of your body.”

So it may be time to step away from the track pad and consider if finding out what happens to your favorite character is really worth putting your mind and body at risk.


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