Is binge-watching bad for you?

Portlandia Binge Watching Battlestar Galactica

When Season 2 of the highly-anticipated Netflix series House of Cards was released in its entirety, every-episode-all-at-once glory on Valentines Day, millions of Americans settled in for some quality time with our favorite power couple, Frank and Claire Underwood. And, when I say settle in, I mean really settle in. Most House of Cards fans didn’t plan to watch one episode at a time, they planned to binge.

But, what exactly is a binge, when it comes to small screen entertainment? How much of a good thing is pretty damn good, thank you very much, and how much is too much?

According to The Atlantic, there are a couple of different ways to know that you’re binge-watching, but there aren’t any hard and fast rules. Three episodes at a time seems to be the rule-of-thumb limit, but, as the article admits, that’s not a very useful standard. You can watch three half-hour network comedies without commercials in just over an hour, since each episode is roughly 23 minutes long. That hardly seems binge-y. On the other hand, if you settled in for a Gone with the Wind (226 minutes) and Lawrence of Arabia (216 minutes) film festival, two might be pushing it.

But, bingeing is really less about how much you watch, and more about how much watching a lot makes you feel, or how it impacts your life. The author of The Atlantic piece offers his own definition, which seems pretty good to me:

binge-watch: (v) to watch at least four episodes of a television program, typically a drama, in one sitting (bathroom breaks and quick kitchen snack runs excepted) through an on-demand service or DVDs, often at the expense of other perceived responsibilities in a way that can cause guilt.

Its the “expense of other perceived responsibilities” part that makes this definition work for me. Maybe those responsibilities are real, and you really are shirking something important when you don’t stop Netflix from auto playing the next episode. Or maybe you should perceive yourself to have other, better things to do with your time like training for a 5k or learning to play the banjo. Whether blowing off those perceived responsibilities have real-world consequences or not, binge watching makes you feel icky about them. And that, I think is the test.

But, as with most deep questions about living well in the 21st century, the truth is may be found on Portlandia. What is binge-watching? This is binge-watching. Y’all be careful out there.

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