Why Netflix is So Addictive & How to Manage it
I was surprised to discover that Netflix, the TV and movie streaming service that I’m sure you’re familiar with, was founded in 1997 — more than 20 years ago! After some trial and error they finally started to become a popular option for a monthly-subscription-based movie service in 2003, moving to streaming video in 2007, then becoming available in Canada in 2010. I recall that initially the selection of TV shows and movies available on the Canadian Netflix was pretty lame in comparison to the U.S. service, so I believe it wasn’t until a couple years later that it really started to catch on and become a household name.
I didn’t have personal 24/7 access to Netflix until about 3 years ago when I started sharing a subscription with my boyfriend, and since then I’ve certainly felt a shift in my habits — for the worse.
After finishing University and starting my career as a freelance Graphic Designer, life seemed to get a whole lot more complicated and stressful. Suddenly I had over $30k in student loans to pay off, with a so-called “reasonable” interest rate, which still added up to an absurd monthly amount for a fresh graduate who had other financial goals — buying a car and a home while perhaps having some freedom to enjoy life in my 20s, to name a few. Navigating my career has also had its ups and downs, especially in terms of income and workload. I’ve experienced loss of family members, distancing from friends, typical long-term relationship hurdles and my own personal demons — obstacles typical for a 20-something person.
In addition to these obstacles there are more personal devices and media surrounding us than ever before. There is an almost constant need to have my phone near me in case I’m needed for work or a personal matter, to always stay on top of my emails, text messages, iMessages, WhatsApp messages, Instagram and Facebook notifications… the list goes on.
My social abilities have changed, in a way that makes me sometimes dread talking to other people, especially strangers. Sometimes when I have an incoming phone call a sound like “UGH” effortlessly comes out of me before I cheerfully answer with “hello?”.
My attention span has worsened because my brain is trying to stay on top of so many things at once. I know this is the same for others because it’s very difficult to get people to read an entire blog post, which I carefully craft in the hopes of making a difference for others and helping or relating to them in some way. But we can’t be bothered because most of us are experiencing an overwhelming overload of competing responsibilities and distractions.
So why Netflix?
Having reflected on all of this, I have some ideas as to why Netflix is my go-to at the end of a long day.
Instant Gratification and De-Stressing
In an article by Mic Network Inc., interviewee Hilarie Cash, a licensed mental health counsellor specializing in internet and screen addiction says that “like other addictions, Netflix addiction provides users with a sense of relief and in some cases, even a type of high.” As for myself, I find that tuning in to an episode of my latest show and tuning out of my problems makes me feel happy — that is until the episode is over and I’m faced with the decision of watching the next episode or doing something more productive and valuable, which brings us to the next point.
If you’re looking to be a really good procrastinator, get a Netflix subscription. It’s way too easy to mindlessly watch Netflix in order to put off what I ought to be doing instead. Sometimes I even watch an educational documentary to make myself believe I am doing something productive.
If you’ve never heard this acronym before, it means “fear of missing out.” Have you ever been part of a conversation with people discussing their favourite parts of a show they can’t stop watching, and you have absolutely no clue what they’re talking about and therefore can’t contribute to the conversation (for me it's almost always about Game of Thrones)? It’s not a great experience and the easy solution to avoid the FOMO is to watch all the most popular shows on Netflix.
It’s Designed to be Addictive
TV shows are cleverly designed with cliffhangers at the end of episodes, entire seasons are released all at once, and Netflix automatically plays the next episode after a quick 5-20 second countdown (barely enough time to reach for the remote and do the right thing). All of these things stacked against our poor, stressed out and “over it” selves lead us down a rabbit hole of mindless Netflix binge-watching.
It’s not our fault, but it is our responsibility and our choice.
Cash explains that "as your addiction takes hold and your brain has gone through those changes that are physiological — that we call addiction — you are no longer in control of your behaviour. Your addiction controls you, you don't control it. That means you are going to engage in the behaviour in spite of its negative consequences."
So if our addiction is in control, how do we manage it? What I believe to be the best solution is to develop a healthier relationship to Netflix by putting structures in place to wean off of it.
At Cash’s residential treatment center reSTART an important component of rehab is figuring out what is driving the addiction. In other words, ask yourself what it is you’re avoiding or “fixing” by watching Netflix.
She also recommends 45 to 90 days away from screens, plenty of exercise, sleep and healthy food, while working on building learning skills. For most of us 45 to 90 days away from screens isn’t realistic but we can start with no screens before 8am and after 8pm, for example. She suggests setting goals around limiting Netflix-watching and to “install technology that will help you limit your screen time and reduce it until you are only watching as much as you have decided to watch.”
Most importantly Cash says to "figure out how life itself can feel rewarding. ... Real life, that is working well, is so much richer and rewarding than life that is spent in front of a screen — entering into someone else's fantasy.”
It will take some work and time, but myself and many others are on this same journey of navigating a healthy relationship with our digital world. We’ll get there.