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Binge TV Watching on the Rise
Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.: Fri, Feb 14th 2014
"Breaking Bad." "House of Cards." "Dexter." If you've watched any of these shows, how many of you viewed them one episode at a time? Probably not many. My guess is that most of you engaged in "binge TV watching" - a growing phenomenon with questionable consequences.
Binge TV watching is just like it sounds. Instead of watching a show when it actually airs, we wait until it's available on DVD or in a streaming format and then watch an entire season in a matter of days. Sometimes, we might watch a whole season or series in one weekend, or even in one sitting.
TV shows have been packaged for binge watching for a while now. The trend seems to have started when shows began serializing their content. This means that shows actually had a running storyline that cut through multiple episodes instead of each episode standing alone with its own little story. "The Sopranos" and "The West Wing" were two of the first shows to do this well.
Peer pressure is also to blame for the surge in binge TV watching. For some, a raise of the eyebrows paired with, "You mean you HAVEN'T watched 'Downton Abbey'?" is enough to send us racing to Amazon Instant Video for a frantic all-nighter. For some reason, we feel we have to keep up with certain shows that are popular in order to be seen as culturally hip.
You might be thinking, "So what?" And that may be true - binge TV watching may not be all bad, and it even seems kind of practical, doesn't it? Who has time to watch shows in real time with commercials? Even if the show doesn't have commercials, it's hard to find time to watch much during the busy workweek. It's much easier to pack several episodes in on a weekend when we're tired and feel like vegging out anyway. Plus, it's pretty satisfying to be able to resolve the cliffhanger at the end of one episode by immediately cuing up the next one (I do recall saying to my husband once after a "Walking Dead" episode, "Oh, we have to watch the next one right now!" We did, but that was an exception to our rule I describe below.).
But there can be a serious downside to binge TV watching. While its impact is just starting to be studied in a scientific way, clinicians have observed some deleterious effects. We might be enraptured by a show while we're watching it, but we are later filled with regret over wasting so much time that we could have spent with family, friends, or more worthwhile pursuits. Binge TV watching is sedentary (unless you're really ambitious and happen to run on a treadmill while you're watching) and is often accompanied by bad food and unhealthy beverages. In fact, binge TV watching is a lot like eating a whole box of Oreos in one sitting. It's really satisfying at the outset, but you feel pretty gross by the time you finish the box.
There's also the issue of the post-show letdown. When we immerse ourselves in a show for hours at a time, we can become pretty attached to the characters and the whole universe of the show. Then - boom - it's over. Binge TV watchers have actually reported the blues when the binge comes to a close and they're faced with real life again.
Watching too much TV is already a problem, and a new poll by Harris Interactive found that 62% of Americans engage in binge TV watching. If you think binge TV watching is a problem for you, I suggest trying what my husband and I do. We tend to watch only two or three shows at any one time, and we stream them all. But we only watch one episode of one show on any one day, when we sit down to eat dinner. We watch no TV outside of this one hour a day while we're eating. That way, we can keep up on our favorite series while keeping our time in front of the tube to a minimum. Plus, we're not victims of isolation because we're watching together.
Are you a binge TV watcher? If so, tell us if you think it's a problem and what you've done to address it.
Ward, B. (February 2, 2014). Small screen, big addiction: Binge TV viewing is a popular indulgence, for better or worse. Chicago Tribune (Online Kindle Edition).