Is a night in with Netflix actually enjoyable?
Low-level anxiety sets in as I scroll through the many titles on the streaming service
A few weeks ago, I found myself at home on a Thursday night with nothing to do – dream scenario. I ordered poke and took my dog for a walk earlier than usual so I could sit on the couch and watch Netflix, willfully ignoring my smartwatch as it suggested I “get moving”.
I know this is far from “switching off”, but I was certainly looking forward to passively imbibing information. Fast-forward an hour, however, and I’m not halfway through a movie as planned: low-level anxiety sets in as I scroll through the many titles on the streaming service. I start shows, stop them, read synopses, and then feel the need to google their IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes ratings to make sure watching something is a good investment (63 per cent – is that good enough?).
I start a documentary I know will be a good watch, get distracted by WhatsApp, then open Google and end up scrolling through properties for sale in my native New Zealand, browsing only the listings I wholly cannot afford.
I start on a series that’s been on my list for ages, but then see an Instagram notification and, before I know it, I am swiping through the Stories of those who chose to do something more interesting on a Thursday night. I think this is what Barry Schwartz called the “paradox of choice” in his 2004 book of the same name (published six years before Netflix was launched). “Learning to choose is hard,” he wrote. “Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.”
He suggests we learn “to satisfice” – “to settle for something that is good enough and not worry about the possibility that there might be something better”.
That’s easier said than done, Barry. There are thousands of titles in the Netflix library (and don’t even get me started on Amazon Prime and the fact we’re just around the corner from Apple TV+). And then there’s the whole problem of my phone distracting me while I try to binge-watch.
Some commentators wonder if the binge-streaming culture is coming to an end, pointing to the success of Game of Thrones and Chernobyl and how they build hype week-by-week, creating a sense of community as people watch shows at the exact same time. I think they’re generally being too nostalgic, however (as I am when I think of early 2000s R&B as the best music of all time). They forget that the world is only going to change more in the future. It’s not going to rewind.
I have fond memories of rushing home from school and convincing my mum to let me do my homework after the latest episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. That doesn’t mean I want to live in a world where the jaw-dropping When They See Us was never made (or La Casa de Papel or Sacred Games). TV is better because of Netflix and streaming isn’t going anywhere. I don’t want it to.
I simply need to learn how to negotiate its landscape better. Perhaps a good start would be to switch my phone off so I can stare at one screen rather than two.
Updated: October 18, 2019 10:44 AM