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Is binge watching video bad for you?

online videoLast week I saw the following tweet from Forbes.com:

“How Netflix Is Changing Our Brains, And Why That May Not Be All Good”

Of course I had to read the full article. I had to know how Netflix (and I assumed other similar services) could be changing our brains.

The article’s author, David DiSalvo, makes the case we’ve been conditioned by traditional TV networks over the years to expect a weekly cycle of shows . He goes on to say that by releasing the full season of Orange is the New Black all at once, Netflix is changing us. DiSalvo claims they are breaking our conditioning.

The fact that we are used to taking small weekly bites of our most popular TV shows isn’t really disputable. That Netflix offers a different experience isn’t disputable either. But is binge watching 13 hours of a TV show a good or bad thing? And is it really making any psychological changes in our brains?

Not being a psychologist, or having a ton of human guinea pigs to test, I can’t answer that last question for certain. But I have an analogy that might be a fair comparison. Have you ever placed a chocolate bar, cake or other sweet in front of a child that normally isn’t allowed to eat it? If you haven’t, take my word for it, every child I’ve seen goes crazy and comes away with a face covered in chocolate. Often they binge until they begin to feel sick.

The child might do it again, but it will probably be a while.

That’s how I feel about binge watching streamed TV shows. And I speak from a little experience. Just before season two of Game of Thrones premiered, I decided I’d take a look and see what all the fuss was about. I didn’t sleep that night, and I was unproductive for most of the next morning as I watched the video stream one episode after another of season one. As much as I enjoyed it, I really don’t want to do it again.

So just like a child binging on chocolate, I learned that binging video watching doesn’t make me feel great. Still, my daughter is always reminding me we need to find the two weeks it will take to get through the entire series of Lost together. I honestly have mixed feelings about it, but I know it will happen someday (I occasionally bow to the whims of my children).

But I suspect any changes happening to us during our weeks-long Lost marathon will have more to do with being sedentary than reconditioning of our brains. But then again, I said I’m not a psychologist. Would you binge on an entire new season of Dr. Who if the BBC released it all at once like Netflix did with its original series? I confess if such a thing were to happen, I’d likely forget about how I felt after Game of Thrones and be the first to sit down on the couch.

Oliver Burt

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