“People are so obsessed with this program,” Stewart said. “I have people who work here, in this office, who disappear for days, on ‘Game of Thrones’ jags. And they are, they just come back with that, sort of, can’t wait —”
Television binge watching: If it sounds so bad why does it feel so good?
“Nerd glaze,” Dinklage cut in.
“Yes!” said Stewart. “You just coined something, sir.”
Ah, nerd glaze. It’s not something you get when you watch television. It’s something you get when you binge.
Addiction language is part of the culture — aided by the addicted antiheroes of acclaimed TV dramas — so it’s not surprising that the same slang is used to describe the obsessive consumption of television as is used to describe the out-of-control consumption of food, drugs or alcohol.
But why binge at all? In the so-called “Golden Age of Television,” is programming so excellent that it’s literally irresistible? Are humans hardwired to binge? And what does this mean for the next stage of TV, both for creators and consumers?
For those who think television is a brain-rotting, time-wasting toxic box of depravity, this is the beginning of the end. But for those who believe television is our next great art form, this is the beginning of the future.
Some TV-viewing facts from a 2013 Harris Interactive study: Nearly 80 percent of U.S. adults with Internet access watch TV through subscription on-demand services (like Netflix or Hulu), through cable on demand, or through a time-shifting device like a DVR. Sixty-two percent of people who watch TV whenever they feel like it will watch multiple episodes back to back.
There’s a sociological explanation for why we binge watch: Overindulging in entertainment is as American as McDonald’s apple pie. We’ve never met fries we couldn’t super size. We’ve demanded six “Fast and Furious” movies. Moderation is for Canadians.
There’s also a scientific answer, one you’ve likely discerned from personal experience: your favorite shows can be addictive.
Whenever you engage in fun activities — eating, drinking, having sex — your brain releases dopamine, the neurotransmitter that makes you feel good. Every drug of abuse also directly or indirectly causes a release of dopamine, which is why (until they kill you) drugs make you feel good, too. You also have a forebrain, which allows for thought, evaluation and the prediction of consequences.
In other words, a miniature system of checks and balances has set up shop in your skull. It’s all very D.C.
Whether you’re deciding to watch “just one more” episode of “Breaking Bad” or you’re throwing back “just one more” tequila shot, a similar sequence is playing out in that particular part of the brain. According to Richard Rosenthal, chairman of psychiatry at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York, we have “momentary lapses in judgment . . . where we suspend that executive function and give ourselves permission to luxuriate in the TV show.”