The ways we watch

The age of streaming created weird TV habits. Which of these describes you?

Having to watch a show when it airs? How adorably quaint.

With the rise of streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Crunchyroll, Shudder, Nano and Mubi, our options are so endless that you probably can’t guess which of those isn’t real. Gone are the days the family would gather on couches in front of the tube on a Thursday night to catch prime-time shows such as “Friends” and “Seinfeld,” hoping they didn’t miss anything because they’d be forced to ask a co-worker the next day about what happened or wait for a rerun.

Now, we watch “television” on our cellphones. We stream movies on computer screens and through video-game consoles. We invite people over to Netflix and chill, and that has nothing to do with watching TV.

Technological advances naturally breed changes in our behavior. As a result, the way we watch these shows has altered drastically — and not just in terms of medium. With this much power, bizarre habits emerge. Maybe you need closed captioning to follow a plotline, or perhaps you like to fast-forward through any scene with people jogging. Those are things you can do now!

After endless debate, we’ve landed on the 11 types of “television” viewers who exist in our brave new world. Which one are you?

Travis M. Andrews

The FOMO Rewinder

You hate being left out — of anything. You’re probably the kind of person who begs for invites to parties you have no intention of attending because the thought of not being invited is soul-crushing.

That insidious quirk informs your television watching. You need to catch every last detail on the screen, and you will rewind, rewind, rewind until you’ve darn well absorbed them all.

You probably weren’t always like this. At first, you missed a line of dialogue and jumped back 15 seconds to make sure it wasn’t important. But that little taste forever changed you. Miss a punchline? Rewind! Couldn’t understand a thick British accent? Rewind!

Then you moved beyond dialogue, needing to take in everything on the screen. Did something move in the background? Rewind! Wait, the main character was reading a newspaper with breakfast, but you didn’t have a chance to read the fake headlines? Rewind! Didn’t catch the score of the football game they were watching in the show? Well, that must be a vital detail, so rewind!

But your spouse is sick of watching every scene seven times. Your friends never let you host watch parties ever since you rewound the Red Wedding scene in “Game of Thrones” 22 times to figure out who died. The only upside to your behavior is your kids have taken to reading because watching TV with you is a constant headache.


Does this sound like you?

Congratulations! You’re the FOMO Rewinder (and you’re probably rereading this paragraph now).

Share how you watch television.

So, you really don’t know what’s going on in the shows you watch, eh?

The Frozen Watcher

You are, to put it in the politest terms, easily distracted. The 21st century dealt you a tough hand with its multitude of screens everywhere you look. You are a cat by a laser pointer. A dog near a squirrel. A barracuda catching the flash of a silver necklace.

Except television is your laser, squirrel and necklace all rolled into one.

You are drawn to the TV screen if anything is flickering across it, regardless of what else you must do in that very moment. The flashing screen is like the sting of a box jellyfish: You’re paralyzed. You might despise reality shows, but if someone tosses “Survivor” on and you’re in the room, you’re about to kill an hour of your life. Your house could be going up in flames, but if you hear characters in the middle of a tense exchange, you’re still going to sit there and just hope you don’t inhale too much smoke.

Your knowledge of empty-calorie television is absurdly expansive, even though you claim to hate it. It isn’t your fault, of course. It’s your significant other, your friends, your children, whoever controls the TV at your doctor’s office, that dude on the train who watches “John Wick” every single morning on your way to work. The screens on the subway are enough to steal your attention, to the point that you’ve missed your stop more than once.

Hey, at least if you go on “Jeopardy!” you’ll probably do pretty well. Partially because you’ve seen like 400 episodes of “Jeopardy!”


Does this sound like you?

Congratulations! You’re the Frozen Watcher.

Share how you watch television.

If TV interests you so little, why are you even reading this?

The Multitasking Phone Watcher

You could clean your apartment, vacuum or cook dinner with nothing to accompany you except the sound of your own thoughts, but why? Technology is frequently a nightmare, so make it work for you. One click of an app on your phone, and those mundane chores instantly become less boring once you’re absorbed in that episode of “Big Little Lies” you missed on Sunday or finally starting to binge-watch “Atlanta” because you’re the only person at work who hasn’t seen it and it’s getting embarrassing. You just carefully prop your phone against a shelf, picture frame, lamp or whatever furniture won’t tip over, and you’re in business. (Just make sure your WiFi is on!)

If you’re truly invested in the scenery or expensive special effects, or characters send a lot of text messages that you have to read, you will reluctantly wait to watch on a bigger screen. But if not, you are relieved to have discovered this hack that gives you the ability to carry your own personal television in your pocket — a delightfully convenient way to catch up on your shows while trying to forget how much you hate washing dishes.

— Emily Yahr

Does this sound like you?

Congratulations! You’re the Multitasking Phone Watcher. (Aren’t chores the worst?)

Share how you watch television.

It’s extremely impressive that you can fold laundry without a distraction.

The Work Watcher

At my elementary school, we ate lunch at our desks because we didn’t have a cafeteria, and one year, the lunch aide for my class frequently took advantage of the television in the classroom and turned on “The Price Is Right.” Not only did it instill 20 fifth-graders with a lifelong love of Showcase Showdowns, but it taught me a valuable lesson: If you are bored at work and you discover a clever way to watch TV, embrace it.

These days, things are a little easier if you want to watch a show during lunch, or even on company time. If you’re a lucky soul whose computer faces the wall, or maybe you even have an office (!), you can put in your ear buds and frown intently to make it look like you’re trying very hard to concentrate on an important spreadsheet when, in fact, you’re actually watching “Parks and Recreation.”

If you want to be really bold, you can stream a show on your phone hidden under your desk — just make sure it’s not a series that causes loud laughter or tears, because that’s a bit harder to explain.

— E.Y.

Does this sound like you?

Congratulations! You’re the Work Watcher. And I applaud your efforts.

Share how you watch television.

Fine, get back to doing your precious “work.”

The Anxious Pauser

Between prestige dramas and cringe-inducing comedies, television is home to a lot of tension these days. You’re the anxious type, so the pause button is your best friend. This magical escape mechanism helps you brace for the discomfort of, say, an inevitable murder, awkward dialogue or the horrifying extracurricular activities of “Euphoria’s” troubled teens. The downside is that it can take you weeks to make it through the slow burn drama of “The Americans” or the pubescent humor of Netflix’s “Big Mouth.” Budget even more time for Larry David’s bumbling antics on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” (Imagine all of the TVs still stuck on “The Bare Midriff” episode, which ends with Larry clinging to a woman’s belly fat to avoid falling off a building.) You may never finish HBO’s excellent “Chernobyl” miniseries because it is based on real events, and that is terrifying. And you’re definitely not getting the remote during family TV time.

Bethonie Butler

Does this sound like you?

Condolences! You’re the Anxious Pauser.

Share how you watch television.

Congrats on being normal!

The Second Screener

You love watching TV, but with screens on your phone, laptop and tablet, why limit yourself to just one? You don’t watch an episode without at least scrolling through Twitter, but your second-screen commitment is even more staunch for major installments (premieres, finales, very special episodes, Laura Dern meltdowns) when the proverbial water cooler gets particularly chatty. Your second screen might serve other purposes, too — comparing a miniseries with its real-life event, for example, or researching where you’ve seen that very familiar-looking actor whose name escapes you. Did you just see a disposable coffee cup in Winterfell? Consult your second screen! Will there be another season of that drama you just binged in one sitting? Your second screen can tell you. Anthony Carrigan definitely got an Emmy nomination for his scene-stealing high jinks on HBO’s “Barry,” right? Your second screen has good news for you — and Noho Hank.


Does this sound like you?

Congratulations! You’re the Second Screener.

Share how you watch television.

Your loyalty to one screen is inspiring.

The Avid Reader

For those who have been made to feel guilty for plopping in front of a TV set while copies of the New Yorker pile up on your nightstand, you can comfort yourself with the fact that, with the closed captioning turned on, you’re technically still reading.

If not due to hearing loss, you might still watch this way because prestige television seems to have become as quiet as it is dark. Some shows are cursedly both. What is it that Jason Bateman just mumbled on “Ozark”? Why is Elisabeth Moss crying on “The Handmaid’s Tale”? Those are questions you’ll never have to ask, because you already read the answer.

When friends ask you how it’s possible to read all those words while paying attention to the moving images behind them, you shrug your shoulders. It’s simply a skill you’ve picked up over time, sometimes out of necessity. Perhaps you also grew up watching Bollywood movies with your parents and, as a non-Hindi speaker, needed English subtitles to supplement the overly dramatic acting. Or maybe those British accents on “Love Island” are just a smidgen too unfamiliar for your American ears to understand.

— Sonia Rao

Does this sound like you?

Congratulations! You’re the Avid Reader.

Share how you watch television.

Guess you have to read those New Yorkers, then.

The Distracted Viewer

Your co-worker asks you what you thought of that absolutely insane twist in last night’s episode of “Jane the Virgin,” and you respond with a look of confusion. Wait, there was a twist? When?! You were too busy folding laundry, cracking jokes in the group chat and stirring a pot of soup every few minutes to closely follow Jane Villanueva’s troubles.

It’s not that you don’t like the show, of course, but rather that you have a hard time sitting still and focusing on a single thing. There’s just too much happening around you. Someone — that same co-worker, probably — told you the other day that technology use has decreased our attention spans. Gosh, maybe they were right.

— S.R.

Does this sound like you?

Maybe re-watch that episode? You’re the Distracted Viewer.

Share how you watch television.

Good for you! And congratulations on the attention span.

The Scroll Bar Skimmer

You learned in middle school that living things adapt to their environments and took it to heart. Given all the features that streaming services offer us nowadays, why not make the most of them?

A true denizen of the digital age, you hover over the bar so conveniently located at the bottom of whatever you’re watching on Netflix to sneak a peek at what’s coming up. Sure, Eleven and Mike and the kid with a bowl cut are among the most important characters in “Stranger Things,” but you’re only really watching this season for Steve and Robin’s scenes at the mall ice cream shop. How much longer until the next one?

It should be noted, though, that you never actually click ahead to a different scene (not on purpose, anyway). You’re not a monster, just curious.

— S.R.

Does this sound like you?

Congratulations? You’re the Scroll Bar Skimmer.

Share how you watch television.

Honestly, that’s probably for the better. It’s a weird habit, anyway.

The Perpetual Re-watcher

We’re in the age of not only unlimited television, but prestige television. You have access to more shows than anyone in the history of humanity and, as every person on Twitter reminds you, many of them are Very Important.

But yet, here you are, frozen in front of your screen. Should you try to finally start “Chernobyl”? Or how about something funnier, like that “Fleabag” that everyone’s been gushing about?

Nope. You select “The Office,” “Friends” or one of the 456 episodes of “Law and Order” that you’ve somehow already seen (that’s, like, 20,000 hours of television).

While others rejoice in TV’s unending options, all you can feel is the crushing weight of making a decision. You feel guilty — you know you should finally get around to “Killing Eve” — but what you actually want to do is shut off your brain and be comforted by the re-watch. The predictability offers a cozy refuge in an otherwise unpredictable world. You don’t want to be surprised, engrossed or learn something new about the human condition from your television. You just want to watch Jim and Pam finally get together — for the 14th time.

— Elahe Izadi

Does this sound like you?

Congratulations! You’re the Perpetual Rewatcher.

Share how you watch television.

Good for you, watching brand-new programming!

The Late-To-The-Party Watcher

You need to talk. About Rory stealing that boat on “Gilmore Girls.” About Coach Taylor’s refusal to put his wife’s career ahead of his on “Friday Night Lights” (ugh, are there any good men, you yelled at the TV). About the fate of Wallace on “The Wire.”

But anyone who knows what the heck you’re blabbing about has already moved on and gotten over it. You are a puddle of tears after seeing how they did Wallace, and you are totally alone in your grief. Your family, friends and co-workers already dissected the biggest shows of the past two decades, the ones you didn’t have time to watch until now, and you cannot take your shock to these people. “Um, yeah,” they’ll say with disinterest. “Where have you been?” You have apparently been in a cave, one without HBO.

But now that you’ve finally gotten around to seeing “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” you are forced to process your feelings all by yourself — or through old Reddit threads.

— E.I.

Does this sound like you?

Email me your thoughts about “Friday Night Lights,” because we are both Late-To-The-Party Watchers.

Share how you watch television.

It must be nice to not have to avoid spoilers.

Travis M. Andrews

Travis M. Andrews is a pop culture writer for The Washington Post. He joined The Post in 2016 as a reporter for Morning Mix. Previously, he was a travel and culture editor for Southern Living magazine and a pop culture and tech contributor for Mashable.

Bethonie Butler

Bethonie Butler writes about television and pop culture for The Washington Post. She joined The Post in 2010 as a member of the social media team.

Elahe Izadi

Elahe Izadi is a pop culture writer for The Washington Post. Prior to joining The Post in 2014 as a general assignment reporter, she covered Congress, race and local news. She has worked for National Journal, WAMU, and The Gazette community newspapers.

Sonia Rao

Sonia Rao is a pop culture reporter. She attended Boston University and wrote for the Boston Globe before coming to The Post as a Style intern in 2017. She officially joined the features department in 2019.

Emily Yahr

Emily Yahr is an entertainment reporter for The Washington Post. She joined The Post in 2008 and has previously written for the Boston Globe, USA Today, the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader and the American Journalism Review.

About this story

Editing by Caitlin Moore. Illustrations by Stephen Maurice Graham for The Washington Post. Art direction, design and development by Junne Alcantara.