I am writing this at the outset of having just finished watching all the available episodes of Breaking Bad. It has taken me close to 41 hours of my life to finish watching it, and I was able to complete it within 2-3 weeks. A thoroughly enjoyable show, and am glad that I made the decision to watch it – just like I have made the decision to watch countless other shows lasting for weeks or even months together over a long period of time. But this post is not about how much I like watching TV shows. On the other hand, it is about the inevitable side effects and the collateral damage that I have become all too familiar with over the years. Without an alternative, it is a choice that I am forced to make.
I have been watching TV shows on a marathon for more than 7 years now, spending weeks (if not months) of my life in the process. And it always starts with that one episode – the episode that goes by the name of ‘PILOT’. It is quite scary to think that something as innocuously named as ‘PILOT’, can in fact end up being the single biggest factor that can practically ruin your life for the foreseeable future. The Pilot is only one episode, and once you are done with the Pilot, you are inevitably looking at a few dozen more. Because you see, in the current age of NetFlix and torrents, it is always likely that you have the complete series at your disposal at any time of the day.
And so it begins. You watch the Pilot episode and you are all excited about the new series. You are probably watching it on your computer or perhaps streaming it from Netflix on your TV through that Blue-Ray player that you bought recently. There is nobody around to bother you or ask you any questions because you are likely to be single and/or surrounded by people with the same mentality and priorities. It is perhaps just early in the evening/night and you are yet to have your dinner – but it can wait, because you need to know what happens in the 2nd episode. And then you put on the 2nd episode. 45 minutes later, you have still not had your dinner and are perhaps feeling a little hungry. But it is nothing that you cannot suppress as you really want to watch that 3rd episode. And so on goes the 3rd episode. 45 minutes later you are already watching the 4th episode and before you know it, your brain has done the miraculous act of completely forgetting the existence of your hunger! Ultimately, when you do look at the watch, you realize it is somewhere between 2 and 3 AM and you need to wake up early in the morning to go to work or to attend some class. Fuck work and classes! Right?!? Well, turns out, NO. You realize you do not have an option with regard to not attending work or classes and so you retire to your bed, on an empty stomach and with the images of the TV show still lingering on in your aching head. It doesn’t take you long to get to REM sleep.
And so the cycle repeats the next day, the day after next and after that and it will not stop until you have finished all the seasons of that damn TV show! Weekends are invariably lost. If it is a good show, you just cannot stop watching it as a matter of principle. You will do whatever it humanely takes (and a little more) to get to the end of the show. You will perhaps even feel a solemn moment of pride and achievement when you finish watching the Series finale – you have invested so much time and effort into it after all.
And if it is a bad show and you have already gone through a full season, you will continue to watch it just because ‘you have already watched so much that you now just HAVE to know the truth’! The Sunk Cost Fallacy in all its glory! You will still do everything it takes to get to the end of the show and you will still have a sense a pride and achievement at the end of it. (Even if it is for unforgivable plots such as those found in LOST).
Just like a drug addict whose only purpose in life is to find that next shot, the only thing on your mind as one episode winds down, is to start watching the next episode. Nothing else matters at that point. Nothing.
In the process of watching all the seasons of a TV Show, several things and events take place with or without your knowledge. For starters, you are doing NOTHING else. Irrespective of whether any of your other activities would have been productive or not, fact remains that you do not end up doing any of those. These include reading books, cooking, paying your bills on time etc. Again, these are just for starters.
You then gradually become a loner. You don’t talk much to your friends and stop going out to meet them or hang out with other people in general. Even on that rare occasion when you do go out, the only thing on your mind is how much you’d rather be at home watching that next episode. People stop inviting you to hang out with them and that only reinforces your desire for more viewing time.
You stop having your food on time. You gradually stop cooking, or if you are living in a dorm, you stop visiting the dining place at the usual times. You are too lazy to get up and do anything about it so you begin to order pizzas. Pizzas and beer – there is always beer available at home. And so you are back on your reclining couch eating pizza directly from the box and gulping down that Budweiser bottle while you put on the next episode. Problem solved.
You become a slacker. You stop doing any form of exercise and instead start putting on weight. You go out of shape and don’t care much about it. Give it a few months of TV show viewing and you find yourself certified overweight.
There are also many intangibles and could haves involved in evaluating the potential loss of productivity of each individual. The amount of other enjoyable work that could have been accomplished during the same duration is always going to be of mammoth proportions – especially in hindsight. Perhaps you could have studied about 10% of all that time you spent watching those TV shows. Or maybe if you had invested a fraction of that time into learning that instrument, you would have probably mastered it by now. How about that trek that you had always planned but never got around to it because you were in the middle of some season? Or all those books that you could have read? How about that book you had always wanted to start writing? Forget a book, you could have written so many more blog posts.
All in all, there are umpteen productive habits that you could have developed and many more things that you could have completed during all those hours of watching TV shows. But this realization, unfortunately, comes about only in hindsight. It is always harmless fun to share with friends about how much time you have wasted watching the newly discovered TV show. But in reality, it really is about the could haves and would haves when it comes to all that wasted time.
Needless to say, much of this insight stems from personal experience (except, fortunately, the getting overweight part). Was I happy when I was watching all those shows? Most definitely! Am I happy to look back at all those wasted hours now while I wonder why I never did all those things that I had always wanted to do? Absolutely not. But I hope to learn from this and not repeat the same choices.
Perhaps I should start some kind of a TV Show Addicts Anonymous. Come to think of it, that might not be such a bad idea after all. Or maybe there will be a new TV Show with that idea! Can’t miss that one for sure!