Anyone who has ever binged a Netflix show understands that it is truly a journey. Watching a show that, if aired on TV, would span weeks, months or even years, in a much more condensed time frame makes every event feel faster and more intense. It makes the emotional rollercoaster of a good show feel like it’s racing by at 1000 miles per hour, instead of the intended 100. Undergoing this binging journey on a break or when you have a lot of time is one thing, but setting out on this journey in the middle of a busy quarter is another thing altogether.
One of the factors of this journey is the balancing act between real life and the fictional world that the Netflix show has sucked you into. Every moment becomes a decision between watching one more episode to find out what’s happening in the protagonist’s love life or starting that essay that’s creeping slowly but surely towards its due date. However, the two choices never really stand on equal ground. Shows are designed to hook you in with relatable characters and cliffhangers while essays are designed to make you work and learn. As a result, I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I’ve chosen to watch Jim try to impress Pam in The Office over getting a head start on an important essay more times than I’d like to admit. However, allocating more time to the show sucks you deeper and deeper into the spiral of attachment, making it harder to choose that essay as the plot thickens with every episode. The further along you get in the show, the more important the journey becomes to you.
Binging a show is also a journey in the way it changes the feeling of the passage of time. In one sense, it makes time seem to pass much faster. Losing yourself in the plot of a show only to surface hours late and find that all of Saturday is gone makes you wonder where the time has disappeared to — at least until you see just how many episodes you’ve managed to squeeze into one day.
In a different sense, it makes the time seem to pass slower because of the way the events tend to progress. Given that a traditional TV show is supposed to pack enough excitement and drama into one episode to make you want to continue to watch it a week later, it makes events progress faster than they would in real life, writing convenient plot twists or simply advancing time quickly. Binging a show just makes these already accelerated events seem to occur within an even shorter time frame. For example, binging a season of a show in one weekend could be an entire year in the show, but for procrastinating Netflix-subscribers like me, it feels like that year’s worth of events happened much more rapidly. In comparison, the events in real life seem to pass much more slowly. Though it took Jim and Pam years in The Office to finally start dating, the unhealthily fast pace with which I watched the show made my friend’s relationship, which took maybe three weeks of cautious advances to become official, feel like it took ages. Balancing these time inconsistencies with an all-consuming mountain of schoolwork really makes binging a show a journey that extends beyond the episodes themselves.
Finally, after sinking hours into a show, you’ll eventually reach its end. When the Netflix autoplay is no longer counting down as the credits roll, it feels, at least to me, like so much has happened, like you’ve aged tremendously and been through so much. The end of any binging journey always reminds me of two things. The first is that binging Netflix shows is a colossal time sink that definitely impacted my productivity over the preceding few weeks, and the second is that even though the show is over, life isn’t. Sometimes it feels weird to emerge from conveniently tied up plot strings and nicely resolved conflicts into the real world where things just don’t end that conveniently. There’s never really a moment in life where all of the running themes in the show convene, and everyone reminisces together about the journeys they had together as the camera flashes back to the first season, reminding you that so much has happened over however long you’ve spent watching the show.
While the binging journey may come to an end, life is still an ongoing journey and not one that you can speed through in a few weeks. The end of a binging journey always makes me feel pensive and reflective as I promise myself to live my life to the fullest and never fall into the Netflix hole ever again. Of course, that sentiment lasts about a week, until I find another amazing show to swallow up my time, beginning the journey all over again.
Contact Kiara Harding at kiluha ‘at’ stanford.edu