When Did Binge Watching Become Commuter Compulsion?

Next time you’re on the way to work, do a head count of all the people watching TV on their phones ​

When Did Binge Watching Become Commuter Compulsion?

by Jazmin Kopotsha |
Published on

‘How can you be watching Suits at a time like this?!’, I thought angrily, peering at the screen of the passenger stood next to me, flabbergasted that not a single person was willing to do the one thing we can typically rely upon grumpy London commuters to do – sigh exasperatedly at yet another disaster of a train journey and share my equally exasperate dismay. When did this fierce dedication to television override our innate ability to be pissed off at the greater London transport system? Is the compulsion to finish a series at the cost of our morning moan and a severe posture problem in later life, really that great?

It’s really hard to pinpoint a time when everyone’s behaviour suddenly changed, but I can certainly identify when I noticed it for the first time. It was on the train to work a couple of months ago. Warm, overcrowded, and as an expectedly unpleasant start to the working day as you’d imagine. I was more on edge than usual and uncharacteristically alert considering that I’d woken up an hour earlier than usual to jump on one of the committed commuter trains (because anything after 7:45 am, my slick city working friend once told me, is for slackers. Safe to say I’m content with my slightly later morning travel choices, though).

The train had stopped for what felt like hours (about 7 minutes if I'm being rational) in the no-mans-land between stations without so much of an announcement from the driver. I start to fidget, now irritable about now being late for the meeting I really didn’t want to get up early for. But I noticed that no one else seemed bothered by the delay. No one else even seemed to notice. What I saw when I desperately searched the carriage for the faces of equally frustrated commuters to catch my eye and silently validate my impatience, was just the characterless head tops of otherwise distracted strangers. Not a single pair of eyes looked up, out or forward. Instead, they were all directed downwards, glazed and preoccupied with the programmes playing on smartphones, tablets and the odd laptop or two.

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Last month Netflix identified a new type of television viewer (because there are types, you see). And while we’ve all inadvertently come to terms with the concept of binge-watching after accidentally regaining consciousness seven hours and eight episodes deep into Orange Is The New Black on various occasion, something that they’re calling ‘binge racing’ has emerged. Our newfound ability to quite literally watch whatever we want wherever we want as continually enabled and encouraged by concepts like Vodaphone’s new data passes and well, Netflix’s very existence, has now become a bit of a competition.

The binge racer is described as someone who ‘strive[s] to be the first to finish by speeding through an entire season within 24 hours of its release’. And while I can be fairly certain that those who were on my committed commuter train into central London that day probably didn’t all belong to the 8.4 million subscribers who have binge raced a Netflix show, the findings lend themselves to something that we’ve teetered on the edge of for a while.

The addiction that used to mean that we’d be home, on the sofa, remote in hand, at the same time every week to watch a show that was fixed to a specific schedule is now transportable, and it’s started to define the little spare time we have spare time - i.e the only 33 minutes of so fon the day we have to disengage - in a way that’s never really happened before. No wonder there are so many studies trying to get to the bottom of just how much binge-watching is affecting our minds and health.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not hating and if you give me a duvet and a bag of popcorn I can binge as hard as the rest of them. But there something about allocating that time on the train (and infuriatingly in transit between stations, on escalators and on platforms. You know, the places where your attention kind of needs to be elsewhere for the safety and sanity of everyone around you) that really doesn’t appeal.

When the driver finally broke the silence that I was seemingly experiencing on my own, not one passenger flinched to pause or remove their headphones for a second just to understand what was going on. Not one. You remember when everyone discovered candy crush and all journeys on public transport were defined by tentative tapping, furious swiping and stifled fist pumps of celebration? The habits of the travelling television watcher aren’t like that at all. They’re still, silent and completely unaware of their surroundings, and I can’t be the only one who finds that a little bit scary.

There’s forgotten merit in not dedicating every single second of life to consumption, you know. So, in defence of not finishing a series first and embracing the freedom to day dream on a train only for it to be interrupted by unhelpful service disruption announcements, let’s remember this: the beauty of the type of access we now have to entire series whenever we want, wherever we want, precisely the point. It’ll still be there when you go back to it.

Like this? You might also be interested in…

What I Learned From Doing My First Proper Commute Into London

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Follow Jazmin on Instagram @JazKopotsha

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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