“Binge-watch” is the latest Word Of The Year.
binge-watch, verb: “to watch a large number of television programs (especially all the shows from one series) in succession”
Lexicographers – word-watchers – noticed that the usage of this word had increased by 200% over the previous year, so it was named 2015’s top word. Watching as many as six episodes of a TV series in one go is what Netflix calls The New Normal. It’s what My New Old Self calls Six Hours I’ll Never Get Back.
You will recall that Netflix used to send DVDs via what is now known as Snailmail. This never took off in many countries because of the lack of a key requirement: a reliable postal service. But snailmailing eventually gave way to digital ways of watching – and binge-watching.
Netflix has since moved into streaming programmes, which requires dependable bandwidth – another challenge in some countries. My own reasons for not binge-watching include the fact that, for a range of reasons, I don’t usually have a full 13-part series on hand.
International Netflix audience data shows that most people like to watch shows “when, where and how they want, for as long as they want”. Hence ratings for scheduled TV are steadily declining while internet watching continues to increase. Having grown up in the era of Appointment TV, before video recording or the DVD box set, my formative TV watching was done live.
I understand that binge-watching is a natural audience response to today’s Anytime I Want TV options. In fact, we can’t really call it TV any more. Televisions will soon be antiques, for young people don’t buy them. They prefer to consume audio-visual fare not only anytime but anywhere: at home or on the go, on any of their many devices.
While binge-watchers may not need a TV, I have no plans to get rid of mine yet. I have little desire to watch anything longer than 30 seconds on a phone screen. Not even on one of those pricey larger-screened devices (still small and can’t fit into a pocket). What I have the least desire of all to do, on any screen, is to watch endless episodes of a series in one sitting.
It’s not that I am advocating delayed gratification. My problem with binge-watching is simply that it interferes with my cherished pastime of anticipation. As in eyes that “sparkle with anticipation” – as opposed to the dull, glazed eyes of a binge-watcher.
For me the pleasurable experience of anticipating is often compromised in the digital age. The phenomenon of writing and posting a letter, then anticipating a response, has no parallel in today’s communications. Send a text or email message and you get a reply from someone in another part of town, or the world, within minutes, if not seconds. Not getting an immediate reply now triggers impatience and stress, rather than positive feelings of anticipation.
I get it that binge-watching is supposed to liberate us from the tyranny of TV schedules. But you see, I never minded the era of “Same time, same channel!” It gave me a whole week to anticipate the next episode of a drama series. To muse about how the plot might twist, to wonder how a favourite character would respond. To chat with friends and even strangers about what could happen next on the latest TV show that was gripping the nation.
By the way, in case you’re wondering about the hyphenation and whether binge-watch is a single word, the Oxford Dictionary’s 2015 Word Of The Year is not even a word at all, but an Emoji. You know that communications breakthrough that saves you the trouble of composing a heartfelt apology by allowing you to send an appropriate Smiley Face next to the word Sorry!!! You can select from hundreds of Emojis, e.g. in this case perhaps a face that’s smiling while shedding a tear.
emoji, noun: “a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion in electronic communication.”
As in “Emoji liven up your text messages with tiny smiley faces.”
I will refrain from using a smirking-faced Emoji as I give you this message: recent research has linked binge-watching to depression. Two studies presented last year, to the American Public Health Association and the International Communication Association, revealed this disturbing down side of binge-watching.
“Physical fatigue and problems such as obesity and other health problems are related to binge-watching and they are a cause for concern. When binge-watching becomes rampant, viewers may start to neglect their work and their relationships with others. Even though people know they should not, they have difficulty resisting the desire to watch episodes continuously.”
– Yoon Hi Sung, International Communication Association
Unfortunately, the researchers cannot tell us whether it’s binge-watching that causes anxiety and stress or if it’s that depressed people tend to binge-watch. Either way, I feel vindicated in choosing anticipation over binge-watching. I am happy to note no research linking anticipation to depression. If and when I manage to download or stream an entire series of what we used to call TV, I will happily limit myself to one or two episodes per sitting. (Speaking of sitting, My New Old Self has often cited studies showing the negative health effects of too much that…)
So remember this next time you think of something planned for the future and say “I can’t wait!” You can. And the waiting will be good for you. The same goes for cliffhanger endings of “TV” series. Don’t autoplay the next episode. Rather take some time to savour the dramatic tension.