Are You Still Watching? – Why Sometimes Less is More

I cannot remember the last time I paid for a CD. I cannot remember the last time I bought a DVD. I cannot remember the last time I waited a week to watch an episode of a series. I cannot remember the last time I did not have to worry about internet spoilers or how a meme could ruin the entire plot of a film for me in a single instance. I miss the excitement and anticipation of going to the cinema not knowing much about a film except from the trailer I saw the last time I was there. I miss going to a music store, buying a CD, appreciating the artwork, and having to wait to get home to listen to it. I miss speculating with my friends about what was going to happen in the next episode of our favourite series, while we waited patiently for the next episode to be released. I almost miss adds on TV interrupting films and TV series.

My laments might seem strange given that I can still ‘do’ a lot of what I claim to miss. For the last 12 months, Tv series, films, music, books, video games etc have been a remedy to pass the long days and uneventful weekends. Maybe it is a pandemic induced nostalgia for the past, but I miss when entertainment was not as instantaneous and ubiquitous as it is now. Maybe there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

As of 2020 there are over 1 billion subscribers to Netflix making it by far the most popular streaming service in the world. With a relatively cheap monthly fee of between 8 and 18 euros, one single subscription gives you access to a library containing hundreds of the most popular TV series and films. Unlimited access, 24/7 where you can watch as much as you want as often you want. For 10 euro per month, you can join Spotify and join 150 million people in accessing over 50 millions songs and some 700,000 podcasts. For another 10 euro you can sign up to Amazon Prime and enjoy super-fast deliveries on purchases as well as access to Amazons own streaming service and the catalogue of TV series it offers. For less than 40 euro per month, I can access more entertainment than I could consume in a lifetime. I have a subscription to all three services, yet I find myself increasingly discontented with having access to so much. Maybe I am just not doing it right.

As the market for streaming services expands, so does our access to more and more entertainment giving us seemingly endless options in what to watch, listen to and read. Despite this, I find myself returning to old favourites, series, and films I watched in the past, and songs I have listened to a hundred time before. The paradox of option makes it difficult to choose something new as the pressure to make the right choice from the hundreds of options is too much. When I do find something new to watch I find myself having to binge watch it so as to get to the conclusions and endlings that normally I would have had to wait weeks and months for. This rapid consumption of each episode gives little time for each one to be digested and the entire series becomes a blur except for that all important ending and sense of completion.

Growing up there was maybe one series that captivated everyone’s attention. The series Lost springs to mind. The day following each episode was filled with discussions and theories as to what happened and what would happen next. Nowadays people watch up to ten series simultaneously so as to be able to partake in conversations with their friends. That is a huge commitment. Ironically in our want to be more social with others, we have to lock ourselves away for hours and hours as we binge series after series just to be able to have something to talk about at work the next day.

As a millennial I have experienced both sides. As a child growing up in the 90’s and early 2000’s, I remember the excitement of going to see the Lord of the Rings films and then having to wait almost a year to see it again on DVD. I remember buying magazines to find out the date of when my favourite bands were releasing their next album. I remember buying blank CD’s to make copies of my friends CD’s as I did not have the money to buy all of them. I remember reading the TV guide and circling the time and channel my favourite series or film was going to be shown on. These little rituals seemed insignificant at the time as I never imagined that things would ever be any different, but I miss them now. It made everything feel more special.

Like many I welcomed the streaming revolution of the 2010’s as now I could access all of this without having to wait. I could walk around with a device in my pocket that could give me instantaneous access to my childhood at home, at work, or even on the bus. Every free moment is a chance to log on, plug in and be entertained. Our need to be constantly entertained and distracted has seen us embrace this bottomless well of entertainment without a second thought but I do not feel like I am alone in thinking that it is taking away what often made these moments so special in the first place.

I am not trying to be philosophical or stoic, or to judge those who would choose to spend their free time watching Netflix but rather offer a perspective on the digital media age we live in. Like most, I have consumed a lot of entertainment over the last year as we all try and make this pandemic pass a little faster. When the opportunity is given to us again, I want to make an effort to try and experience entertainment like I used to when I was younger. Go to a live concert when I can instead of watching one on YouTube, choose the cinema over opening up Netflix, limit myself to one episode of a series and try to unplug from the digital entertainment sphere when I can. While things will never be the way they were, I hope that I can discover some of the magic of those times by making that little extra effort.       

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