We're Still Watching

by Julia O'Sullivan | 10/5/16 12:24am

What requires the stamina of varsity athletics without any of the physical exertion or risk? What phenomenon has swept the nation, from adolescents to elders: binge watching television. This activity, which some might even classify as an art, combines the joy of a child watching cartoons on Sunday mornings with the escape from stressful adult responsibilities.

Between Netflix, Hulu and On Demand, we can watch entire seasons at the single touch of a button. Not to mention, the “Next Episode” button can be a deadly trap, stealing hours from innocent lives. Students, both in high school and college, seem to be especially susceptible to the black hole of online streaming. For a sleep-deprived young adult, there is often nothing more enticing than the semi-engaging activity of staring at a screen, watching fictional characters or the Kardashians live their equally fictional lives. Binge watching serves as therapy for exiting a less than optimal reality and entering another world entirely, free from the responsibilities of school, work and social obligations.

A restrained approach to what some might call a hobby and others might call a profession can be entirely healthy. When used in moderation, binge watching can destress and distract from the trials and tribulations of daily life.

Depending on the show and episode length, this form of procrastination might only consume a couple of hours, which may be the necessary amount of break time between classes and homework. It seems reasonable to fit this viewing schedule into a productive, highly-achieving work plan.

Others succumb to an all-consuming relationship with online streaming. Second semester, senior year of high school seems to be the pinnacle of all bad habits. Senioritis causes even the best and the brightest to regress into the mental and physical state of an unhygienic potato. Between college and high school, many students reevaluate their conventions, reflecting on the value of watching television into the wee hours of the morning.

Selena Neptune-Bear ’20 knows this experience all too well, once sleeping through a chemistry class after staying up to watch “Orange is the New Black” until 4 a.m.

“My teacher literally let me sleep through class and then lunch,” she said. “It was so embarrassing I wanted to clean her whole house or bake her a cake to make up for being such a terrible person.”

The most puzzling component of unhealthy binge watching for many has to be why we do it. When confronted directly, many students were at a loss as to why they felt compelled to watch 10 episodes in one sitting or stay up until ungodly hours of the night.

“[Binge watching] is definitely not a good use of time. I could have been studying, beating up my little brother or baking my chemistry teacher a cake, all of which would have been more productive,” Neptune-Bear said. “Although, season three was by far the best.”

Some noted that while binge watching may not be the most productive, the feeling of reckless freedom one gets from it makes it worth it. Other viewers reserve marathon watching for vacations only, taking study breaks that might clear their minds more organically.

“I only watch a maximum of three or four shows at a time, and that’s only during the summer when I’m just relaxing and have nothing else to do. I’m not really a Netflix person,” Hana Nazir ‘19 said.

The allure of seven white block letters on a red background only exists for some.

The members of the population who don’t understand the heathens who stare unblinkingly at flickering screens, and they might just be better off. As Nazir said, “I can refresh my mind doing something else.”

Alternatives to binge-watching may require more physical or creative exertion, but can be more effective methods of mental repose. Dartmouth students specifically can take advantage of the out of doors. Students, with or without friends, can depart on a quick tour of campus, observing the changing colors of the leaves. More ambitious hikers might take on Mount Moosilauke or partake in Dartmouth Outing Club activities like fishing, kayaking and biking. In the winter, though urges to binge watch from the warmth of a cozy dorm bed might become more challenging to battle, there is always the skiway.

This being said, some of the greatest work of the past few decades can and should be accessed through Netflix. For hopeless nostalgics and romantics, “Friday Night Lights” is a fan favorite. For a “throwback,” “Friends” is always a good option. For the real belly laughs, “The Office” is tried and true, as well as “Arrested Development” or “The League.” For those 16 and under in reality or at heart, “Gossip Girl” and “Glee” are necessary evils. And for those really late nights when things start to get a little weird, “Stalkers who Kill” or “Celebrity Plastic Surgeons of Beverly Hills” will always prompt the viewer to ask the existential questions, namely, “Why does human life exist?”

Abby Livingston ’18 tends to watch only two or three episodes in a sitting.

“[I] max out after that because I just get bored of watching the same show,” she said. “I usually don’t go on to other shows because I’m just watching for a little while.”

Ultimately, either extreme, watching no TV or watching far too much, poses their own problems. Moderate TV watching — a few episodes here and there mixed in with other activities and productive work — can make for a happier life. Although, “Power Rangers Dino Supercharge” season one, part one premieres on Netflix on Oct. 15, so see how you feel.