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1/30/2015
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Geekend: Binge Watching TV A Sign Of Depression?

Binge watching your favorite show might be a sign of depression or a lack of self-control. Or it might just mean you've got a free night.

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I must admit to you, friends, that when it comes to my TV watching ways, I'm a bit old school. I had cable growing up, but I still vaguely remember the three-channel TV universe. I actually used to tape things on something called a VCR. When I record on the DVR, I still say I’m "taping." I tape reruns of The Love Boat, for instance. Yes, friends, The Love Boat is making another run on cable right now. Probably literally right now.

The Love Boat is on maybe eight hours a day. You can binge watch it, but I don't. Because for me, you watch a show for an hour and then you watch a different show. Yet even with my Luddite ways, I was shocked to learn of a study that says binge watching a TV show is a sign of depression, self-medication, or a lack of self-control.

Really? Wanting to watch three or four hours in a row of Sherlock or Orange Is the New Black is a sign of depression? I assumed it just meant you didn't have a date. Sure, watching four hours of Love Boat reruns might give you depression, but it isn't a sign of it. Love Boat is a harmless show about aging stars finding love. What could be the problem?

Three researchers from the University of Texas at Austin will present their findings that it is bad to binge on your favorite shows at the 65th annual Conference of the International Communication Association. They studied 316 18- to 29-year-olds and asked them how much TV they watched, how often they felt depressed or lonely, whether they had trouble finishing tasks because they were watching TV, and how often they binge watched a certain show. They found those who were more likely to binge watch a show were more likely to be lonely or depressed and had worse self-control when it came to turning the TV off.

They also found people who binge watched were more likely to be obese and have major signs of fatigue.

Basically, binge watchers were in serious trouble.

(source: Wikimedia Commons)

So with all due respect to academia and those suffering from depression, I think this research is a little too serious. It is the kind of thing where you measure something for the first time and you think it is different from everything else. Here's the thing: Binging is bad. Any kind of binging. Sitting down with a gallon of ice cream is bad. Sitting down with a gallon of vodka is bad. Sitting down and watching TV for four hours with vodka and ice cream is bad. But it is a cart-before-the-horse problem.

Obviously binging is a sign of a problem. But shouldn't we be thrilled that each of these people is picking TV rather than vodka, cocaine, or a life of crime? It is absolutely a sign of self-medication. You know what happens when a couple does it on the weekend and they watch their favorite show together? It is a sign they realize they've been apart too much and they'd like to spend the day snuggled on the couch. You know what happens when an adult watches a show they enjoyed as a kid for a few hours? It is a sign they want to find a place of happiness.

Nothing is wrong with it until you do it for days and days at a time. And then the sign of depression isn't the binge watching, but the failure to live life. Sure, maybe they've found an early warning sign we should look out for.

But they've also discovered that TV doesn't work the same anymore. Watching a series in chunks was remarkably inconvenient until the invention of the DVD. Even the VCR wasn't great for it. The DVR and streaming really made it fun.

I'm sure the study is going to talk about ratio of TV watching to binge watching. I'm sure there really is some value to the study. I also know that if you can self-medicate with TV, it beats the heck out of heroin.

So the Geekend is now going to present its entirely unscientific guide to self-medication through TV. We're going to list some TV shows and we're going to tell you what problem you've probably got. Ready? Binge.

Game of Thrones. You've got family issues. You just want to know there is a family worse than yours. And there are at least five in Game of Thrones. That, or you had a wedding go tragically wrong.

Orphan Black. You're struggling with your identity. You don't feel like you know who you are. Binge watching Orphan Black might not help you figure out who you are, but it will give you an intense need to show everyone your underwear.

The Big Bang Theory. You know you are smarter than everyone else, but no one else seems to notice. Binging on The Big Bang Theory allows you to come up with all the witty comebacks you never thought of in time. Did you know other languages actually have a word for that? In French it is l'esprit de l'escalier. In German it is Treppenwitz, and in Yiddish it is trepverter. They all basically mean "staircase words." Yes, I knew this and you didn't, which makes me smarter than you. Where is your retort? You'll think of one on the stairs on the way home. Bazinga.

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The Americans. You feel unsettled in a post-9/11 world. You liked knowing who the "enemy" was. You also like gummy bracelets, denim for the whole body, shoulder pads, high hair, and neon shoelaces.

By the way, there is not enough of this in The Americans. The fashion seldom looks period enough. It would be even better if it looked more like The Goldbergs.

Arrow. You're convinced evil is everywhere. You are looking for a hero to save you from your paranoid feelings. But you also don't believe in modern technology like gunpowder. We're not sure who binge watches Arrow since Luddites probably don't like streaming.

Agents of SHIELD. You have an immense fear of anything making sense. You'd much rather go through your whole life never asking questions that might lead to any clarity. Facing any sort of truth or ideology, or even doing something in a logical manner chills you to the bone. Binging on Agents allows you to think of the people running the world as mere random actors who know even less about the world than you.

Friends. You're stuck in the past. All your college friends have moved on. You're lonely and sad. Your job's a joke. You're broke. You're love life's DOA. It's like you're always stuck in second gear. Like it hasn't been your day, your week, your month, or even your year. But they'll be there for you.

What do you think? Is binge watching a sign of a problem? Do you binge watch? If you do, what shows do you binge watch and who do you watch them with? Have you ever let binge watching get in the way of your life? Do you watch shows to self-medicate? Geekend wants to know.

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
2/3/2015 | 6:23:54 PM
Re: Geekend: Binge Watching TV A Sign Of Depression
@Kelly22 - When you're an only child, you are kind of forced to go into your own little world a bit. I always played with the neighborhood kids, but once it was dark and parents are doing "adult" things like cooking, cleaning, paying bills, getting ready for work the next day - you look for entertainment elsewhere. TV was the perfect solution back in the day. Now, it's the Internet. And now I totally get why you would only have Internet and no TV now...because you have the Internet and it can do both. But if you had no TV and no Internet (like one of guys in our office currently) - I would look for your name to crop up on one of those shows like "Snapped!" lol
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
2/3/2015 | 6:18:21 PM
Re: Geekend: Binge Watching TV A Sign Of Depression
@David - "I ain't mad atcha" -as the song goes- for having undisturbed TV watching time. Jealous, yes. My toddler has the attention span of a flea (although we did make it all the way through Frozen start to finish for the first time.) But I digress. I was always skeptical of those who didn't watch TV in my younger days. Many things you see there, are part of our shared lexicon of American Society. Don't you agree? At one of my first jobs out of college our whole team was out to lunch and someone made a comment about "Manny, Moe and Jack" to which one person replied, "Who are they? The guys in the mailroom?" But everyone else knew it was a reference to the "Pep Boys" commericial that you couldn't miss unless you were living under a rock. So, in my opinion, when you don't "get" those universal references, it may seem to other people that, in fact, you live under a rock. Or do other weird things. Or are planning to go ex-pat. In short, I feel not watching TV is viewed as, well, unAmerican. I think the Internet is now like the TV in that respect. If I was talking to my colleagues at work and someone said, "What's a MEME?" or "Who's Anonymous?" - I'd honestly think there was something wrong with them. Is that bad?
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Strategist
2/3/2015 | 5:32:27 PM
Re: Geekend: Binge Watching TV A Sign Of Depression
Hah, I do remember a time when MTV actually showed music videos... though you'd never guess it now!
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/3/2015 | 5:29:29 PM
Re: Geekend: Binge Watching TV A Sign Of Depression
@Kelly22- When I was a kid we listened to our music while watching TV. It was called MTV. Those were the days. :)
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/3/2015 | 5:27:40 PM
Re: Geekend: Binge Watching TV A Sign Of Depression
@vnewman2- I probably watch too much TV. And I do sit and watch some. It is usually a family thing. I like to get my kids together to watch Mythbusters or something. And there is football on Sundays. So it does happen. And apperently with some people they sit there and watch stuff for like 20 episodes at a time. :)
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Strategist
2/3/2015 | 9:41:25 AM
Re: Geekend: Binge Watching TV A Sign Of Depression
Interesting that you have such different perspectives! I'm one of three kids and we didn't watch much TV unless the weather was bad or it was a lazy weekend morning. Now I don't even have a TV; my roommate and I opted for an Internet-only subscription. I'll watch Netflix occasionally but usually prefer music as background noise when I'm cleaning or doing other chores. Can't say I miss it much.
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
2/2/2015 | 7:00:21 PM
Re: Geekend: Binge Watching TV A Sign Of Depression
Lots of great comments here. I had an interesting conversation with my husband which was brought on by this column in particular. Yeay :) He is one of 6 children. Apparently there must be plenty of other things to do with that many people around because in his house, the TV wasn't ever on unless someone was sitting there watching it. "Sitting there watching it." hmmmmm... I don't really know the last time I just "sat and watched TV." I have a 2 year-old and a full-time job. There's not much sitting and watching TV happening right now - but even before this time, I still would use the TV as a background - almost like a radio. I can follow the plot without seeing the pictures as they did in the days where they aired "serials" over the airwaves and you used your imagination to fill in the images. What do I do while "watching but not watching" TV? Laundry, dishes, iron (with my steamer-thingy), pick up toys, sort mail, and yes, even surf the net. My husband can't wrap his brain around this. He tells me I should turn the TV off unless I'm...well, you know. So I had to explain this "very strange phenomenon" to him. Is this normal? Do other people share this view of you have to be watching the TV with full attention to be watching it?
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Strategist
2/2/2015 | 6:29:25 PM
Re: Geekend: Binge Watching TV A Sign Of Depression
All true... I've heard binge-watching TV associated with depression a couple of times, but nobody ever says sitting around and reading for a few hours is a bad thing.
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
2/1/2015 | 2:31:39 PM
Re: March Madness
Binge watching shows has really come of age because of streaming. For me, I like the fact that I have control over my time. If I want to just watch a show for an hour, I go for just one. If I have more time, maybe two. If I really need to relax, maybe a few more. It's my choice and on my schedule. 
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
1/31/2015 | 10:01:13 PM
Re: Geekend: Binge Watching TV A Sign Of Depression
@vnewman2: I am an only child too, though my parents were very strict about what times I was allowed to watch TV when I was a kid. So, for me, binge watching is probably a form of deep-seated rebellion against my parents. in that case, you'd think I'd binge on Game of Thrones, but my favorite recent bings show has been reruns of NYPD Blue (which is just fantastic to watch back-to-back and without commercials). The only other binge viewing I've done has been to catch up on shows I was late to the party on, like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. Perhaps Dr. Dave can diagnose me...

:D
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