I Broke Up with Binge-Watching and I’ve Never Been Happier
My name is Brian, and I’m an episodic TV addict. I’ve been clean for over 100 days now. That’s right. Clean. No Piper and Alex. No Phillip and Elizabeth. No Starks. No Lannisters. No Netflix. No Amazon Prime Instant. No HBO GO on my friend’s account.
By last fall, my “denial” cover story about my nasty habit was collapsing. I could no longer fool myself that I merely enjoyed the golden era of prestige TV in the age of genius showrunners like Gilligan, Simon and Chase
My viewing habits had broken bad. Really, really bad. Paying full Prime retail for an all-night binge on USA’s mediocre law firm procedural Suits bad.
Bad as in hearing not voices but rather an insane mash-up track, starting with the opening violin theme from The Americans, adding in The Sopranos bass line, layering over the House of Cards theme (because it’s the basically the same song ) and then topping it off with the Game of Thrones cello bad.
But things are better now. Much better. Subtracting episodic TV has added significantly to my quality of life. Here’s how:
1. I have more time for…everything.
Conservatively, I can expect to reclaim 130 hours of my life this year, merely by abstaining from episodic TV. It’s literally like getting an extra three weeks of vacation time.
The math is simple.
This year, I would expect to keep up with the most current seasons of my four favorite shows — all of them hour-long prestige dramas (The Americans, Better Call Saul, Orange is the New Black, Game of Thrones). Running an average of 11.5 episodes at 52 minutes apiece, that’s 2,392 minutes of viewing time. Plus, I figure I’d also end up with at least two “binges” where I watch four seasons of two additional hour-long programs. That’s 5,408 minutes now returned to my personal use and discretion.
If I were to stream nothing else, that would be 7,800 total minutes, or 130 hours of total expected viewing time: almost 1.5% of the total hours available in my entire year.
Try doing your own math based on your viewing habits. You might be shocked by the results.
2. I’m less distracted by reading about my favorite shows.
Those 7,800 minutes above are just viewing time.
In the throes of my bingeing, I’d feel less bad about watching four episodes in one night than about hitting up the fan wiki at 3 am. I’m also ashamed to admit how many post-episode, hot-take recaps I’ve consumed straight from an auto-refreshed Google news feed. One silver lining of Grantland getting shut down is that I am no longer obligated to visit five times a day looking for fresh content on my favorite shows.
3. I have less insomnia and get more sleep.
I think it’s time for a new “definition of insanity”:
Expecting to go to bed at the end of an episode but watching helplessly as the “auto-play next” function kicks in and I breathe an audible junkie’s sigh at the wondrous sound of HBO’s show-opening audio ID.
Midnight, 1:00 a.m., 2:00 a.m. …and there goes the following day’s productivity up in a blaze of gripping, small-hours narrative.
4. Not only the quantity, but the quality of my sleep is better.
TV shows also have a way of invading my dreams.
Sure, I slept more peacefully after watching Parenthood than I did after watching Breaking Bad, but going to bed on nothing stronger than a (non-backlit) novel makes the cast and content of Parenthood seem like a meth dealing operation when it comes to my unconscious.
It’s now much cleaner in there at night.
5. I have a better grip on reality.
Expanding on the idea above, I’d ask that if you haven’t read up on how we process information gleaned from TV, well, take a look. The mind-numbing and brain-rotting effects are ugly.
What scares me most are the hypotheses about how the brain processes TV on some level as “real.” It’s not as bad as it seems (we’re not all totally delusional), but have you ever seen a character actor wandering around your local farmer’s market and thought, “I know that guy from college!” only to discover he was a defense attorney with a three-episode arc on Suits?
Asking for a friend.
6. I have more money.
I’ve cancelled my Netflix subscription. I’m not paying retail on Amazon Prime for recent seasons. Nor am I tempted to, you know, steal content from torrent sites and risk potential litigation that could cost me time and money.
Remember those 7,800 minutes above? Those are all available for business or educational use. I’ve already seen a non-trivial income increase as a result of the extra free time and the clearer headspace.
7. I’m less annoying.
The more episodic TV I watched, the more I found myself weaving references to my favorite show into conversations, even when those references were a total stretch at best — or blatantly uncalled for at worst.
Not fun for anyone involved.
8. Ironically, I’m more interesting at dinner parties.
Like the teetotaler worried about socializing without the aid of booze, I wondered what in the world I’d have to talk about with people without the most recent goings on at Castle Black or Litchfield prison. As it turns out, my “going clean” is more than enough conversation fodder to cruise happily through even the most stilted of gatherings.
9. I’m more happily married.
Back in the heyday of my addiction, I’d often fire up the iPad to watch episodes in bed, long after my wife had gone to sleep. Of course, she’d invariably wake up right in the middle of a Littlefinger brothel scene, which, was, well, awkward. Finally, it dawned on me that I didn’t need to be bringing glowing pixels, ultra-violence, moral ambiguity and lavish HBO sex scenes into my marital bed.
So, long before I swore off episodic TV entirely, I quit bringing my devices into the bedroom. After I did this, both my wife and I were measurably happier.
10. I’m able to watch and enjoy movies again.
After an extended run spanning hundreds of hours of sweeping, internally-coherent, long-form narrative crack, a mere two-hour film, even a great one, feels like comedown.
Now, my attention span for movies is returning and I derive more pleasure from even the mediocre ones. It’s kind of like a sex addict re-adjusting to a tamer, saner variety of intimacy. I find that watching movies now is like being able to go out on an enjoyable date — but I feel just fine about going home alone to rest up for the workday ahead.
The moral of this story?
There is no moral, other than re-examining your TV habits in the age of streaming media could make you healthier, more productive, richer, more interesting, more happily-married and, possibly, a more appreciate cinephile.
Godspeed and good luck.
(Photo credit: Adrianna Dufay/TueNight)
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