Netflix addiction: Press Pause

A 26-year-old unemployed man has been admitted into a psychiatric hospital in Bangalore for having a Netflix addiction. According to a doctor there, the patient turned to Netflix to “escape reality”. Clearly, he was not very different from a lot of us except his seven-hour daily binge lasted six months. He ignored family members’ pleas to look for a job, and would put on the TV as soon as he woke up every morning.

I find it hard to view this news as anything but hilarious. Of course, nobody on his death bed ever said, if there’s one thing I wish I’d done in my life is, watched more TV. Yet, that somebody should be shoved into a psychiatric ward for watching Netflix excessively sounds like one of those Orwellian situations that holds up a mirror to the absurdity of our world. Human beings are not machines. Binge watching isn’t wild debauchery. Of all the vices it’s possible to succumb to — drugs, alcohol, even copious amounts of food — Netflix is, by far the least problematic. For example watching eight episodes of Game of Thrones may provoke a headache and a stiff back, but it’s not going to kill you. Fixing this doesn’t need a mental health hospital or prescription medicines or counselling. It needs a firm family member who cuts off the internet connection.

For sure, this 26-year-old has issues he needs to work on. A complete lack of discipline, or a plan. But I don’t see how he’s different from people who check their phone incessantly, and waste time on WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook. There are some interesting statistics available at SHUT, short for Services for Healthy Use of Technology, an internet de-addiction centre started by NIMHANS in Bengaluru. In a survey of around 3,000 people between the ages of 18 to 65, five per cent had a phone addiction. Excessive use of social media was more among singles and unmarrieds, and less among people who lived in joint families. Of course, previous generations had more social interactions because they didn’t spend their days battling 14-hour work days and traffic jams.

Exhausted city dwellers don’t have time to socialise and most nights, only have energy to immerse themselves in intense television drama, which is really not a bad way to unwind.

It is true that streaming content sites have become a substitute for other kinds of outings, like going to movie halls. You don’t have to leave the comfort of your home to be really well entertained. There have been some online discussions on whether Netflix actually works as a marriage saver. It precludes the need for conversation and avoids arguments. For those of us who can exert some self-control and limit our time to a reasonable one to two hours a day, the only downside is, you end up reading less.

There’s a lot of pressure to maximise your time and your talent, live purposefully and to have direction. No doubt, it’s more fun to engage with the world than to spend too much time in front of a screen. Occasionally however, the content within Netflix is a way to perceive modern existence differently.

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