Grounded in Reality

It started with just one. But then I liked it, so the next day I had three. Then four. It seemed harmless. I was lonely and these people were becoming like my family. But then something awful happened. They left me. I was alone again. I finished the series….

Today I want to tell you something I’m ashamed of. I want to tell you about my recent addiction to television streaming.

As an American, Netflix is not new to me. When I lived in San Francisco I would come home late from a day of work and an evening of martial arts and reward myself with an episode How I Met Your Mother or Futurama. And when I broke my foot last February, there was little I could do those first few weeks after surgery but watch T.V. So I caught up on 3 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. It seemed a little excessive, but I had a good excuse.

A few months ago, I ran across this article about Netflix addiction. One of the statistics it shared about the release weekend of the popular series House of Cards really struck me:

“Over one million viewers did not simply enjoy an episode, or two, or three, but five episodes in a weekend. This may not seem like a lot at first glance, however House of Cards is a 60 minute program so doing some simple math shows that all one million viewers combine spent a total of five million hours watching Netflix that weekend.”

This made me feel sad. While it seems innocent, “binge watching” – as it has been dubbed, comes at the expense of many other things. Creative things like painting and writing. Social things like hiking or making dinner with friends and family. All the things that keep us grounded in reality. I thought, “Wow, I’m lucky that there is so much to do here that I don’t even think about television.” I had been traveling and just settled down in Chiang Mai. While backpacking, I was so overwhelmed with activities that being on the computer (even for blogging) felt tedious. I was truly living in the moment and loving every minute.

Then a few weeks ago, in the comfort of my new apartment,  I discovered free movies on itunesYouTube. I suppose it all began with a bit of insomnia. It started out harmless – a movie here or there. Sometimes YouTube didn’t have what I wanted so I bought things on iTunes (Yes, I know about Torrent. Don’t judge!) But then I started preferring it — being at home and watching T.V. to going Salsa dancing or meeting my friends. And last week, I hit rock bottom. I purchased a whole series of a T.V. show and I watched all 21 episodes in 3 days.

There. I said it.

Maybe I was lonelier than I thought… Somehow the characters became so comforting to me I looked forward to going home and “being with them.” It was just too easy. Too simple to plug in and escape. Even as I was doing it I felt like it was wrong. Like a recovering alcoholic having a ‘little’ tequila. I wanted to stop but I couldn’t.

I thought about the 90’s. I thought about loving The X-Files so much that I couldn’t wait until the next week to see the next episode. But I did wait. I had to. I even had to endure commercials! Looking back, I’m grateful for that. I spend more time with my family and friends. And, moreover, I enjoyed the show more because it unfolded so slowly. I felt a good anticipation.

But it’s not the 90’s anymore (though I still love you, Fox Mulder). The most challenging thing about television addictions today is there is no one to stop us. Not ABC, CBS, or NBC. Sometimes not even our parents. We can go from binging on one series to the next at the click of a button thanks to streaming. It is up to us to know when it’s a problem and cut back or quit cold turkey.

Overcoming the Addiction

I took a deep dive on Google today to look for resources on fighting this new epidemic, but found very few. Here are my own solutions:

Find a “Support Group”. Last night, after starting Season 2 of The Fosters – an ABC Family show about a gorgeous, bi-racial lesbian couple living in San Diego with their 3 adopted children, one foster child, and a biological son from a previous marriage who falls in love with his new sister – I realized I had a serious problem and I called my friend, Martin. I asked him if he would meet me at CAMP, our favorite coffee shop, to work today. We both have some projects we want to work harder on and we agreed this morning that we would have regular co-working meetings.

My friend Martin and I at CAMP today
My friend Martin and I at CAMP today

Just say No. I use to watch T.V. on my computer before sleeping, but I’ve started a new practice recently of not allowing my Apple in bed with me (it’s not a teddy bear, after all). I leave it to charge on my desk where it belongs. Don’t take the computer or T.V. to bed with you. Give it a curfew and let that be the time you set it aside every night. Only books and journals allowed in bed. Leave the phone out of reach, too.

Ask yourself why you are doing it. Are you lonely? Are you afraid of doing something challenging? Only you know, but be honest about it and ask yourself the most important question, “What do I really want to be doing right now?” Chances are those actors on the television are doing things with their lives you wish you were doing with yours. So find the step 1 in your own dream, and start doing that. No matter how small or how slow you have to take it.

Embrace living in the moment. When you make your world smaller, you’re actually making your life bigger. Without a data plan on my phone, I call people more, and I call the friends who are near me to make plans. I spend less time sending messages and being on Facebook. Not because I don’t miss my friends far away, but because I want to be here now. If I embrace what is all around me, tangibly, I feel more alive and more grounded.

I hope you find these tips helpful. When I write posts like this, I write them because I suspect I’m not alone. I would love to hear your own experiences or confessions about streaming addictions and how you are dealing with them.

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