Binging without purging: students consider the ramifications of their instant streaming habits

DU student in Anderson Academic Commons squanders his time

DU student squanders time in Anderson Academic Commons 

It’s 4:00 p.m. on a Friday and Russell Anderson, a first year psychology graduate student at the University of Denver, sits on his bed, with a computer on his lap. As he settles into the comfort of his apartment, he reflects on his workload for the weekend: a neuroscience exam on Monday and several hours of assigned reading. Overall, Anderson feels certain he can manage with time to spare for visits to the gym and a party with his friends.

By Monday morning, however, Anderson has done none of this. The entire weekend has slipped away, into a black hole. Amnesia? A drinking binge? No.

The third season of “House of Cards”.


The New Normal

Increasingly, college students have begun to suffer from these mysterious losses of consciousness, in which huge stretches of time seem to pass in just a few hours. A student looks up, dazed and confused, twenty hours later, wondering when they had made the choice to spend the whole weekend in bed with “Breaking Bad”.

If a mysterious new drug appeared that sucked away time like this, authorities would be frantic with fear and actively pushing back against the epidemic. Sadly, TV addiction isn’t generally seen as a real problem; despite studies that binge watching TV can actually cause serious problems, such as depression. Had a hard week? Rather than making you feel better, too much TV is actually going to make you feel worse! (Read more)

“It just seems to happen,” says Ted Sturgulewski, a DU senior. “It’s not like you decide, ‘Hey, I’d like to waste my whole weekend on Netflix!’. But one episode turns into two, and before you know it you’re finishing the season, and it’s like Sunday night, and you haven’t done any of the things you were planning to do.”

The average length of a season of many major shows is 13 hours. A student who spends a weekend binge watching a season of “Breaking Bad”, for example, has probably spent more time watching TV than she has on any other activity except sleeping. She’s watched an average of 6.5 hours of TV per day, leaving a limited amount of time and energy for schoolwork and extracurriculars. In many cases, students often watch multiple seasons at a time, leaving the comfort of their dorm rooms only to get food.

These “binge-a-thons” are seen as increasingly normal. Instead of releasing episodes of “House of Cards” one-by-one, Netflix releases whole seasons of the show because it realizes viewers don’t like to have to wait to watch the next episode. But this tactic encourages college students to neglect school and other activities to spend their days zoning out in front of their laptops.

A New Kind of Art? Or a New Kind of Drug?

“When you’re watching a really great show, you just don’t want to stop,” says Edward Stroud, a college junior at Washington and Lee University. “And it can be great. You get totally involved in the show and the characters; it’s like you’re in a different world while you’re watching. You get sucked in. It’s almost like a totally new kind of art, like a movie that goes on for 13, 20, 40 hours. When I was watching “The Wire” it was like I was a part of it, and I by watching it all at once over just a week or two I was involved in it in a way I couldn’t have been if I had spaced it out.”

But other students see something more potentially harmful in the practice of binge watching. Watching TV shows in one sitting has been linked to depression, and, for some students, has serious negative consequences.

Francis Long, a senior at the University of Colorado Boulder, says he can think of multiple times over the course of his college career when he sacrificed his schoolwork for the glowing red alter of Netflix. “Of course I regret it,” he reports, “If I could have it back to do over, I would never have even gotten a Netflix subscription. I don’t even remember half the shows I watched. Some of them were so stupid, I wasn’t even interested in them in the first place. But once I started, it was so easy to keep watching them.” Long estimates that his GPA probably lost a full point due to his overuse of programs like Netflix, Vimeo, and Hulu.

Not only is binge watching detrimental to schoolwork, it has been linked to health problems such as obesity and diabetes. “It’s kind of a little gross when you really think about it,” says Sturgulewski, “I think of myself as an active person. I would never want to sit around in bed for days like a slug. But when I’m watching a show, I do it all the time!”

Jim Pagels, contributor to Slate, argues that even the experience of watching a great show suffers when you watch it too fast. “Episodes have their own integrity, which blurs if we watch too many in a row… and cliff hangers need time to breathe,” he maintains. (Read more)

One thing is for certain. After the fun of binge watching is over, most students suffer at least some degree of regret. The show is over, the weekend is gone, you feel drained and weak…and that economics exam is looming right around the corner.


2 Responses to Binging without purging: students consider the ramifications of their instant streaming habits

  • Julie Brunette
    Julie Brunette says:

    Such a relevant article! Definitely felt myself cringing a little bit as I applied everything to my own show-watching habits. Well-written and original!

    • Julie Brunette
      Julie Brunette says:

      Sorry, I realized I left a really short comment and could probably add some more about the specifics of the things I liked. your lead was fantastic – starting with a person and then backing out worked really really well for you in this story. Your photo also worked really well for me – it’s almost like by your use of the over-the-shoulder shot it seems as if the viewer has snuck up on the subject doing something they shouldn’t be (wasting time). Your conclusion was also great and tied everything together phenomenally well. Your tone throughout – personal and a bit humorous – was consistent and kept the piece fast-paced.

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