“Binge watching, defined as watching two to six episodes in a single sitting, increases during the summer and it often takes place alone,” says Glenn Sparks, a professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication, who studies how communication technologies affect interpersonal relationships. “Society is suffering from fewer in-person relationships due to so many technological and media distractions, and the trend to binge-watch encourages such solitude as well as sedentary behavior.”
Sparks also cautions that binge-watching resembles what scholars refer to as media addiction.
“Viewers often talk about their binge-watching experiences in terms similar to what addicts use; to describe more traditional addictions to things like alcohol, gambling and drugs. ‘I can’t resist the need to see just one more episode,’ Sparks says. “They start to neglect other important tasks, in-person relationships or their own physical appearance. They start to lose sleep, and sleep is key to physical health, and they may not function well during the day.”
These shows, through traditional television networks and now online sites, are often well-done and end on spectacular cliff-hangers, which makes watching just one difficult. These series are designed and promoted to be consumed in binge-watching sessions.
Another motivation that drives people to binge-watch is the fear of missing out.
Sparks recommends that viewers deliberately structure breaks during an episode, especially at a good part, for about 20 minutes. People should walk around or engage in something else.
“The goal is to get in the habit of not satisfying the urge to continue watching on that critical point, which will help people be more conditioned to take a break,” Sparks says.
Sparks is the co-author of "Refrigerator Rights: Our Crucial Need for Close Connection” with Will Miller, who is a lecturer in the Brian Lamb School of Communication.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Amy Patterson Neubert can be reached at [email protected]