In Defense of Non-Binging

Oreo Cookies, at Costco, 6/2015, by Mike Mozart of TheToyChannel and JeepersMedia on YouTube #Oreo #Cookies. Used under Creative Commons License.

Earlier this month, GeekMom Nivi shared that she married a Netflix non-binger: her husband likes to poke around, deciding what to watch, and doesn’t just devour season after season of a show until it’s done.

Well, it happens that I’m also a non-binger myself, and I’m here to defend non-binging.

Nivi said, “Not binging on Netflix is like using an industrial-grade oven to reheat frozen pizza.” The implication of her metaphor is that Netflix is designed for binging—that it’s a waste not to. And, to some extent, I agree: Netflix is absolutely designed to help you binge, the way the next episode will automatically start up after a few seconds (helpfully bypassing the opening credits, too). Even when you just click on a show to check it out, it will start playing while the interface is still on the screen—Netflix is just going to go ahead and get started while you’re deciding whether to watch or not.

But I’m going to use a different metaphor: Not binging on Netflix is like buying a bulk package of Oreos at Costco … and then not eating it all in one sitting. Sure, Costco exists so that you can buy a bunch at once—just like the way Netflix allows you access to an entire season of a show at once rather than dribbling it out a week at a time. But that doesn’t mean that you have to consume it all at once.

Here are three reasons to slow down.

Santa Clarita Diet
Sheila (Drew Barrymore) chows down on some raw hamburger. Photo: Saeed Adyani / Netflix, used with permission.

1. Teaching (and Learning) Self-Control

In Santa Clarita Diet, a new Netflix zombie comedy, Sheila (played by Drew Barrymore) has apparently turned into a zombie, and is now totally controlled by her id. She eats raw hamburger straight from the package, buys herself a Land Rover on a whim, and acts on whatever other urges pop into her head. In short, she has no self-control. That makes for fun television (I assume—I’ve only watched the first episode so far), but isn’t a great skill for success in real life.

In Parenting in the Age of Attention Snatchers, Lucy Jo Palladino stresses the importance of our brain’s executive functions—the parts of our brain that determine which desires to act on and which to delay or overrule. Yeah, yeah, I know: this smacks of Calvin’s dad and “building character,” but it’s true. Part of the reason I avoid binging is because I want my kids to learn moderation, and I can’t do that if I never stop watching myself. It’s not that I don’t want to keep watching, or that I never give in to the temptation, but resisting gets easier the more you do it.

A Series of Unfortunate Events
Pictured: Mr. Poe (Ken Todd Freeman), Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton), Klaus (Louis Hynes), Violet (Malina Weissman). Photo: Joe Lederer / Netflix, used with permission

2. Responsibilities and Other Interests

Another reason I don’t binge is, frankly, responsibilities. Life isn’t just about being entertained. I’m a stay-at-home dad, so I don’t have regular work hours, but I still need to get the groceries, do laundry, cook dinner, and shuttle the kids to and from school and other activities. (Though, fortunately, my responsibilities are much less burdensome than those of the Baudelaire children in A Series of Unfortunate Events. I assure you: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny would never binge on Netflix.)

Plus, I’ve got things I want to do: play board games, read books, and, you know, write about it all on GeekDad. So, unlike the couple in Portlandia who discovered Battlestar Galactica and just couldn’t stop until it was over, I usually turn off the TV when I’m finished folding laundry, even if—the horror!—I haven’t finished watching whatever episode I happen to be on. It’s okay: I’ll have more laundry to fold soon, and I’ll get to it eventually.

Image: Dreamworks / Netflix, used with permission

3. Stop to Savor

We started having family movie/TV nights on Fridays last year, and we’ve been picking shows to watch with the whole family. We’ve watched some TV shows like Voltron (of course) and Supergirl (though it got a little scary for our youngest), and movies like Zootopia and *batteries not included. What I love about Netflix is being able to watch a show at our own pace. If we miss a week because we decided to go see LEGO Batman at the theater, we can just pick up where we left off. If there’s some other activity on a Friday, we can move to Thursday or Saturday, no problem—the show will be there whenever we choose to sit down. We aren’t tied to the tyranny of appointment TV.

But whenever we’re watching TV shows, my kids inevitably ask to watch another episode, and another, and another. Many shows end an episode with a cliffhanger or some teaser about what’s to come. But jumping ahead to the next episode means you don’t stop to savor what you just watched. Just because you turn off the TV doesn’t mean your enjoyment of the show ends there. When we do stop, we get to digest a little more, share (or re-enact) favorite moments, add new quotes to our vocabulary. Rushing through an entire season, I feel like these specific moments would be harder to hold onto.

And, of course, the sooner we watch the last episode of a season, the longer the wait will be until we can continue—and you know the season-ender is going to be a huge cliffhanger, too. All the more reason not to plow through too quickly.

It’s just like that big box of Oreos—I’m not saying you shouldn’t shop at Costco, because if the price is better, then it makes sense to buy it in bulk. But it doesn’t hurt to spread it out over a little more time. Who knows? You may even find that you may enjoy it even more when you have just a little bit at a time.

And if you are a binger and you live with a non-binger, by all means read Nivi’s post for some tips on keeping the peace.

Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team, and receive access to Netflix for coverage purposes. Opinions are my own.

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5 thoughts on “In Defense of Non-Binging

  1. Your metaphor is flawed in one aspect. Once you purchase a big bag of Oreos at Costco, you own them. With a Netflix subscription–assuming you don’t automatically renew but take the time to consider whether or not to renew each month–you are limited to a month’s worth of content for your subscription price. In that regard, it is more efficient and cost effective to binge.

    A more apt comparison might be the difference in paying a set price for a pizza or the same price for the buffet. Yes, you can savor a single pizza bite-by-bite, or you can stuff as much pizza as possible down your gullet before the buffet ends. There are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches, depending on your particular appetite.

    1. Sure: but in Nivi’s post, it didn’t sound like the idea was to subscribe to Netflix, binge for a month or two, and then unsubscribe. It felt more like a long-term proposal. And if you’re talking about a long-term proposal, then that changes things. If you need to binge ‘Stranger Things’ because you’re not sure you’re going to have Netflix next month, well, then that’s like your occasional visit to the pizza buffet. But if you’re eating at that buffet every day, and still telling yourself that … that’s probably unhealthy.

      1. And Nivi’s post wasn’t even specifically the standard definition of binging: Sit on your arse and don’t do anything else until done.

        She mentioned the simple fact that her husband would watch one episode in one series, then watch an episode of a completely different series the next time.

        It wasn’t a complaint about total time spent in media, but rather in failure to complete one item before starting another.

        So, the meal analogies can continue. Do you finish one item on your plate, ensuring it does not even TOUCH any other items, at a time? Or do you enjoy a bit of this and that, mix a few things together, stop for a drink and to carry on conversation, and eventually still make your way through the same meal everyone else did, in roughly the same time?

        Absolutely no universally right answer. It is a deal of “to each their own.”

        My plan when the kids are old enough to enjoy long drawn out series will be to create our own network programming. Consume a few series at a time, in gradual installments. Gives us time to discuss what is happening, muse about what may happen, and maybe draw parallels between shows. Also it gives a chance to include programs that not everyone wants to watch in the schedule.

        1. That’s true. I forgot to add in the other reason: variety. I like to have a variety of things. While I will at times have the same thing for lunch several days in a row, I’d much prefer to have food that I’m in the mood for each day—and the same goes for my entertainment diet.

  2. I could not agree more! The times I have binged are not good memories. Typically I’m not capable of bingeing TV. My greatest problem however is not TV but books! I can’t stop reading a book once I start it. I have to use audio books for the simple fact that I can Get stuff done while also listening to a book.

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