What Facebook Doesn’t Kill, Netflix Will
There’s a downside to on-demand binge watching beyond the sheer gluttony of it.
Grown-ups across the country have been telling us for years now that staring at our smartphones constantly weakens relationships. Professional media theorists have also written plenty on how it transforms our personal interactions, and in a lot of ways, they’re correct. But instant communication through the internet isn’t the only thing behind a growing disconnect between young people. Even individual pursuits like watching movies on Netflix impact the way that we relate as human beings.
Take the popular series House of Cards for example. Even in the show’s heyday, I encountered very few in-depth or analytical conversations about the series. Most people will discuss how many episodes they’ve watched, the on-screen text messages, or the fact that Kevin Spacey looks into the camera a lot. But that’s it. A person only needs to see one or two episodes to discover these things, but beyond that, the “no spoilers” rule reigns supreme. The series is on-demand, so anyone can jump in at their whim and proceed at their leisure. It’s hard to talk about that plot twist at the end of Season 2 or the opening of Season 3 when Joe from marketing or Cassandra from statistics is only at the beginning of the first season. The chances of everyone present having watched up the same point are slim, as well as the chance any meaningful discussion of character, aesthetics, morals, or politics taking place.
It doesn’t take a liberal arts degree to have these types of conversations. Back in 2012, I took a group of middle school guys from youth group to go see The Avengers. On the van ride home, they disputed whether The Hulk or Thor was better at smashing and destroying things. When the guys asked me which character I liked best, I truthfully replied that I liked Captain America’s leadership and team-based strategy. That may not have been the first thing on their minds, but having watched the same movie, they understood what I was talking about.
Some of my best college memories came from dorm movie nights. We watched weighty dramas, classic westerns, slapstick animated films, you name it. Our community did have good taste, but the film didn’t necessarily need to be great since the people and the conversations were the best part anyway. The best that social media seems to have given us is mocking commentary on Sharknado or a heated debate whether Katy Perry’s left shark or right shark gave the better performance at the Superbowl. But at least we’re talking about the same thing.
Watching TV shows any time without commercials is great, but it can be like unearthing a treasure that you can’t tell anyone about.