Television on the floor in a dark room with blue light reflected on the floor.

Whenever a friend tells us they ate an entire pizza at two in the morning, drank a whole bottle of whisky, or did all the drugs Hunter S. Thompson mentions in the first paragraph of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, we laugh—but we laugh with concern.

Because fun as doing all that may be, it’s sometimes a sign that things aren’t quite copasetic. “Everything alright?” you tend to ask. Yet when someone brags about binge-watching the entire first season of House of Dragon or some other show in one weekend, we’re like, “Nice.”

Now obviously, drugs and whisky and late-night pizzas are more immediately bad for your health, especially when you do them all at the same time like I did Tuesday afternoon. It’s a bit odd, though, how so many people feel the need to consume multiple hours of show in one sitting like a duck that swallows without chewing.

Granted, I’ve done it multiple times. What was I supposed to do that day? Read? See people? Grow as a person? That’s preposterous. Better to spend that time watching an entire TV series get gradually worse until the last episode prompts me to say, “God, that was a bad ending. What day is it?”

Why We Binge-watch

Why do we do this to ourselves? The first answer people tend to give in my non-scientific study that I didn’t actually conduct is: “Because the show is so good, I just had to know how it ended in one sitting.” Did you? Was it? A third question?

No show is that good (except the ones I’ve watched). Most of us won’t sit through a movie longer than 2.5 hours unless it’s really worth it, yet will sit through episode after episode of a show we can feel getting worse after the first season.

You may have noticed something here. When people get in a binge-watching frenzy, it tends to occur with new or at least slightly newer shows. You rarely hear people say, “I binge-watched all of Harry and the Hendersons last week” or “Can’t meet at the bar, need to finish up Baywatch Nights.”

It’s not simply the idea that television is better than it used to be, which is debatable. It’s that people feel the need to finish the new ones so that they can say they finished it, tell their friends, Tweet their take, and do whatever else to make it known to the cultural zeitgeist gods that they have consumed the latest thing. Witness me!

I may have been binge-watching a show and missed the news when this law was passed, but it seems like there was a decree from Congress that everyone has to watch the latest popular show that’s out, and we all have to watch it at the same time.

Because if you don’t, you may miss a reference or not get the joke in a meme, and people will know, they will point at you in public, like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. People love announcing they finished a show. It’s probably the closest we’ll ever come to time travel. “I have seen the future, my friends. Turn back now and save yourselves.”

Why Does My Back Hurt?

Health-wise, we know deep down that while binge-watching television isn’t as bad as eating an entire wheel of cheese, it’s probably not great either. Binging is, by definition, indulging in something to excess. And look at the action itself: You’re sitting in one spot, eyes glued to a screen, and immersed in a reality that’s totally not real and repeats the same song every hour.

From a distance, you look like a person in a science experiment. One can imagine people in lab coats watching you and remarking, “He’s about to crack.”

I could easily quote studies saying that binge-watching is an addictive behavior that creates an unsustainable dopamine high, that it tends to correlate with loneliness and depression, and can negatively impact relationships and sleep–but you already knew all that instinctively. It’s why every part of your body hurts afterward.

Binge-watching can certainly be fun here and there when you’ve got nothing to attend to and want to immerse yourself in a show that features really good-looking people saying coy things to each other. It can be a way to relax sometimes, to a point.

But beyond everything, there’s a reason we know it’s probably terrible for us: That moment when the Wi-Fi goes out in the middle of an important episode, and you snap like a child whose parents shut off the TV without warning.

That’s a good time to step back from your tantrum yelling at the rep on the phone from your internet provider (“I will bring down hell on you!”), and go do something healthy with your time, like having a glass of whisky while staring at the flying cars out the window.

Profile Photo for Chason Gordon Chason Gordon
Chason Gordon is a former staff writer and editor for How-To Geek. His writing has previously appeared in Slate, Vice, Input, and The Globe and Mail, among other publications.
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