A good TV show will make you lose yourself in the world of the characters for a while, but today the majority of Americans are choosing to immerse themselves in a fictional world for far more time than the length of one episode.
With the introduction of streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix it became possible to watch more than one episode of a TV show at a time, often without commercials if you are willing to pay a fee, which in turn has led to the cultural phenomenon known as binge-watching.
Binge-watching is defined as “watching between two to six episodes of the same TV show in one sitting” and it is now a mainstream part of American culture. No one bats an eye if someone says their weekend plans are to go home and binge-watch a season of their favorite TV show.
It might be the norm, but are there hidden consequences behind this seemingly innocent practice?
Although she does not do this regularly, junior Laina Feath has said she once binge-watched for 13 hours straight. “I do it because I enjoy watching the shows I’m into at the time,” Feath said.
America is already a sedentary society with an obesity epidemic and binge-watching is not helping to reverse the issue. Instead of going to the gym after work or school, many people are choosing to go home and watch several hours of TV instead, which is detrimental to their health, especially if they are already sitting at a desk for most of the day.
Studies have shown that sitting for long periods of time saps energy, leaving people feeling sluggish and worn down.
“If you don’t go out and do stuff, you’re not exercising and eating, […] or if you’re eating too much food,” it could lead to negative consequences, Feath said. “I don’t watch 13 hours a day every day, just moderate it.”
The more time you spend lying on the couch staring at the television, the more likely you are to develop a chronic condition and increases your risk of dying early.
It also increases your likelihood to become obese or develop heart disease, especially if you eat junk food during TV binges. These issues are linked, not necessarily to the TV you are watching, but the amount of time you remain inactive.
However, if the only negative effect binge-watching had was on your physical health, the solution would be simple. Watching TV while at the gym or putting a treadmill in the same room as your television would combat the effects of inactivity and encourage more people to exercise. But prolonged TV watching negatively affects your brain as well.
Studies have shown that binge-watching can be associated depression and loneliness in individuals and suggests a lack of ability to control one’s impulses. Many people report feelings of unhappiness or loneliness after hours spent in front to the TV, which a lack of exercise probably contributes to.
Junior Taylor Snell says that binge-watching doesn’t make her lonely or depressed since she’s busy with swim team and spends her extra time with friends. “I think it just kind of makes me feel zoned out and it’s just kind of a way for me to decompress after a long day,” said Snell.
But is binge-watching really our fault or is it something we can’t control? Research shows that technology and the way TV shows are written make it much harder for people to control their impulses.
The auto-play function used by websites such as Netflix and Hulu creates a sense of anticipation in the watcher and encourages them to keep watching. Besides that, writers purposely create cliff-hangers at the end of each episode to encourage the audience to keep watching.
“Really I find that binge-watching is something that I do when I find a show that I really want to keep watching and watch until the very end,” Feath said.
“When I first got Netflix it was really hard, because I didn’t really know how to control myself […], but now I’m much better at controlling myself and making sure I do take care of my certain responsibilities that mandatory for my daily life,” Snell said.
More research still needs to be done as scientists have come to no clear conclusion on what actually defines binge-watching and how harmful it really is.
There is a huge difference between watching two or three episodes of your favorite TV show in one sitting and watching an entire season in a day. However, there is no denying that it encourages a sedentary lifestyle and takes up time that could be spent doing more productive things.
Photo Credit: Christian Erickson / The Foothill Dragon Press.