THE COMPULSION TO KEEP UP

A friend asked me the other day if I had seen the last episode of Downton Abbey.  With a sense of guilt and apology, I told her that I was behind on Season 5 and therefore couldn't even begin Season 6. There was a sadness in my friend's voice when she told me she had watched the finale: the end of an era.  I immediately felt like I had missed out on something important. and made a mental note to finish the show when I had time. 

Someone labeled the growing addiction to TV series by coining the phrase "Binge Watching." This phrase has stuck and is now a certified phenomenon, as more and more people spend hours watching their favorite "shows." Maybe the start of addiction began with the drug obsession in Breaking Bad,  and maybe you found that you had your own addiction as you waited for the next episode. Or maybe you got mesmerized by the saga of Carrie's brilliance, her mind bending mental antics, and her exciting life fighting terrorists.  Certainly you either love or hate Carrie (I love Saul). As for me, I was addicted to Mad Men, Revenge, Prison Break, Lost, and most recently The Affair. I have friends who live for Game of Thrones, Ray Donovan, and House of Cards. The best thing about ON DEMAND is that these shows are always available if you want them, whether current or not.

While living vicariously through the lives of these fictional characters, we are spending hours of own lives in these imaginary worlds. Is it escapism, boredom or a combination of both?  Whatever the motive, these shows give us something to talk about. While often alienating and interfering with potentially self enriching activities, the shows do serve to unify us in the commonality of interests. We can size someone up when they tell us what they are currently watching. "Who is your favorite character?" The question is ripe with motive. The answer takes the guessing game out of who they are and what they value. 

While watching Orange is the New Black during the day or catching up on Billions has become the "new normal", it is important to put our viewing habits in perspective.  In an age where no one goes anywhere without a phone, we are used to being constantly plugged in and "on." Social media tools like facebook, instagram and twitter make it easy to stay up to date on the news, to see what our friends are doing and what they are eating. In the same way, the constant availability of our tv series make it possible to keep up with not only "real people," but all of our fictional friends who keep us company when our face book friends are not on line.