Netflix, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down

It’s two o’clock in the morning. You’re in your room, sitting atop your bed with legs folded, arms on knees, chin resting in your hands. Your laptop is open in front of you. On the screen is the final scene of an episode coming to a close, the screen goes black (or orange, in the case of one particular series), the credits roll and the series’ theme song (which you know by heart, of course) starts to play.

The screen then splits into two smaller screens. Your episode goes to the upper left corner of the screen while the other goes into the opposite corner and displays the automatic countdown to the start of the next episode. 10, nine, eight… What should I do? Watch another episode? Seven, six, five... You start rationalizing. You know it’s late, but you don’t have class until 10 a.m. Four, three… One more episode can’t hurt. Can it? Two, one… The episode starts to play. Soon that one episode turns into two, and then three, and from there four, and before you know it you’ve sat in front of your computer for several hours.

As many Americans have come to learn, Netflix can be addictive. Only people with the strongest will power can turn away from its siren’s call. If the TV shows ScandalBreaking Bad and Orange is the New Black have taught us anything, it’s that giving into the binge temptation has definite downsides even if they do come with catchy theme songs.

In the last several years, the number of Netflix subscribers has skyrocketed, producing numbers and returns that Gordon Gekko would applaud. Statista reported that in 2011 the average number of quarterly subscribers was around 23 million. In 2015, the average grew to over 63 million subscribers.

This surge of Netflix subscriptions is mirrored by a steep rise in obesity rates and cardiovascular related illnesses nationwide. With over one-third of American children classifiable as obese or overweight and the average age of stroke victims at an alarming decrease, steps must be taken to mitigate the harmful effects of this phenomenon—and the next episode of Gossip Girl is not one of those steps.

In 2011, Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, decided to explore the health implications of prolonged television watching to gain a better knowledge of this now routine activity. The many millions of Netflix subscribers must not have read his report.

His findings were published in the 2015 May issue of Journal of the American Medical Association. In that issue, Mr. Hu wrote, “The message is simple. Cutting back on TV watching can significantly reduce risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and premature mortality. We should not only promote increasing physical activity levels but also reduce sedentary behaviors, especially prolonged TV watching.” In the intervening years, cases of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease have continued to rise, meaning this study holds even more weight today.

Not only does Netflix encourage a sedentary lifestyle, it instills in viewers a false sense of happiness. Contrary to popular belief, Netflix doesn’t make you happy. In fact, Netflix plays a greater hand in the lives of the self-proclaimed "unhappy" than those of the "happy."

Psychology Today reported, “We looked at eight to ten activities that happy people engage in, and for each one, the people who did the activities more—visiting others, going to church, all those things—were more happy. TV was the one activity that showed a negative relationship. Unhappy people did it more, and happy people did it less.”

So while television is believed to present a short-term sensation of happiness it plays no part in the long-term happiness of those watching it.

At its best, television has the power to make you feel, imagine and think in ways you never have before. It can sway you, push you, shove you and move you. But the feeling that is greatest at the end of any really good show is that of wanting more.

The only direction TV will guide you toward is the next episode, which will contribute nothing to your overall happiness. It further isolates you, pulling you deeper into “the lives of Manhattan’s Elite” and the wings of Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital, worlds that we inhabit briefly but don’t possess. T.S. Eliot spoke on the isolating power of TV when he said, “The remarkable thing about television is that it permits several million people to laugh at the same joke and still feel lonely.”

So the clock continues to tick. 10, nine, eight… Will you watch the next Netflix episode? Seven, six, five… Can you finish this series in one sitting? Four, 3=three… Or will you get up and challenge yourself to do something active, something worthwhile that might make you truly happy in two, one…GO!

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Casey O'Neill