Why Do We Binge-Watch?

By Alyse Borkan  |  Jul 31, 2014
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We live in a world of instant access. It affects everything in our lives, from the way we learn to the way we date. We’ve grown familiar with communicating with anyone, having access to just about every article or book ever written, and receiving the answers to most of our questions in a matter of seconds. We just have to ask Siri.

This constant influx of information contributes to a sort of societal A.D.D. But when it comes to television, it has the opposite effect. There are few things as pleasurable as binge-watching a TV show. When an episode ends on a cliffhanger after 42 minutes, we have to move on to the next. We need to know what happens. We must appease our appetites for instant knowledge. TV is addictive.

That little Apple TV box in our bedroom created a window into a whole new dream-world. For 61 percent of us, binge-watching is the way we watch TV. 79 percent of us think watching multiple episodes of the same show in a row is the best way to watch a show. There’s a reason “binge-watching” was the runner-up for the Oxford Word of the Year.

We get so engrossed because we are empathetic creatures. We identify with the characters despite their fictionality. Studies show that we release the hormone oxytocin, associated with human connection and caring, when we watch great movies and TV shows. When we binge-watch, we spend quality time with the characters. You know, “sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.”

Movies just end too fast. We want that empathetic high for more than just two hours. All the President’s Men is 138 minutes long, but there are over 100 hours of The West Wing. Both transport us to an alternate reality of fast-talking White House staffers, offering an escape from the mundane, everyday minutiae of our own lives, but one is fifty times longer than the other. We can live in The West Wing’s world for weeks.

Television is like a permanent door to Narnia, from the comfort of the couch in the living room.

Binge-watching is so pervasive that it even invades our dreams. Read the comments section of any article about binge-watching and you’ll see someone like “The Hoobie” say that binge-watching Breaking Bad at night is a “recipe for some trippy-a**ed dreams.”

That dream-world we lose ourselves in actually enters into our subconscious minds. It can be super weird to see those empathetic characters walk across our actual dreams. It’s “too much of a good thing,” like Danielle commented.

This is the price we pay. All addictions have side effects. Binge-watching television is no different. It infects our dreams and may be killing us. We promise we’ll stop soon. We just need to watch one more episode. Just one more.


– Josh Segal

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