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What are you going to watch next?
When did leisure and entertainment become a chore?
Thank you all for your lovely wishes last week! Your feedback made me all emotional, and I appreciate you — those who wrote in and those who didn’t. I’m only sharing ONE piece of feedback because I’d be tootin’ my own horn for too long otherwise.
I love your VOICE. Chatty, interesting and fun to read. Sound like a friend giving you good advice! - Farrah
Thanks, Farrah, you’ve captured exactly what I want to do with this newsletter. I want to write something relatable & useful, things that a friend would tell you!
Now let’s talk about how leisure and entertainment have become such a chore today.
A few weeks ago, I took my first not-at-home holiday in two and a half years. My friends and I decided to go to a hotel to enjoy some good ol’ fashion downtime. Since none of us could drive, we were stuck at the hotel/resort. We expected to spend time with each other (I hadn’t seen one of them in three (!) years) and lounging around.
There, in that hotel, for the first time in years, I watched some TV.
Now, let me clarify because while I do have a television that I frequently use at home, I’m referring to cable television. Or whatever the equivalent of a TV channels provider is in your country.
It’d been a long, long time since I’d switched on the TV and resigned myself to watching whatever was on there. The closest I came to doing this in recent memory was using Netflix’s Surprise Me shuffle option. It put on a Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode I’d recently watched, so I went back to browsing.
As I watched whatever movie played or flipped to another channel where they were going through k-pop tracks on TV, I felt like I’d missed this. The way you just had to make your peace with whatever was on TV, and you had two options — either you watched it, or you didn’t.
Today, we’ve got more than a few options on what to watch (not to mention where). We know there are running jokes about trying to decide on what to watch before your food gets cold. Or whose turn it is to pick what to watch at dinnertime before it turns into an all-out war.
I don’t think many of us realize our leisure time has become another chore on our to-do list.
Entertainment as a crutch to reduce FOMO
Remember Game of Thrones? I watched that religiously during college, except it aired a day later here. So I had to go through a whole day of staying off Twitter, evading spoilers at lunch, and then rush home to watch it first thing. It started out with a desire to watch what would happen next. But then, it morphed partly into not wanting to miss out.
I didn’t want to be the only one who didn’t know which beloved character had died or had been resurrected. As the show went on, I got less and less invested on an emotional level, but my desire to be a part of the global crowd watching it at the same time kept rising.
This is very common. Think Money Heist during the pandemic. Squid Game. Euphoria. Bridgerton. I caved and watched a bit of Money Heist before deciding it’s not for me. I only just stopped myself from watching Squid Game — I wanted to, despite knowing how I don’t like violently graphic shows. Or that they don’t calm, energize, or do anything nice for me. It’s not enjoyable, which is the purpose of leisure.
Our leisure time is dictated by what the world is watching/consuming. Few of us haven’t watched at least two of those shows mentioned above. If we don’t watch it with the world, we feel left out, and then we might catch up to finally be in the know with all those enduring memes from The Office or FRIENDS. It’s natural to want to be a part of the discussion, to feel like you’re part of a community. But it’s just as essential to actually think about what you like to consume. What’s good for your soul, what nourishes and energizes you.
Decision Fatigue — what to watch next?
Going back to the bit about having to choose what you want to watch next — I hate that so much. We make decisions throughout the day — work, food, chores, etc. But then you also have to choose what to watch. If you’re not watching what everyone is (which seems like the sane choice right now), you want to watch something that’s useful, that’s been on your list, or that’s going to add to your life.
The simple, daily question, “What should we watch?” suddenly had stakes. Do we scroll to this app and watch the trending prestige drama of the day? Or do we peak behind door No. 2, where lies the fourth season of the quirky dramedy we’ve been following since the beginning? Or maybe a movie instead? After all, That One Oscar Contender From Two Years Back is set to depart this one streaming service in two weeks and who knows when it’ll be back. We couldn’t be mindless about this, heaven forbid.
It’s tiring to have to make that decision again and again. Whether it’s which YouTube video to watch, which show to start next, or which movie to finally stream, it’s all a headache after a point. So many options, so many things to consume but so little time.
There’s even a scientific law that explains this — Hick’s Law.
According to the Hick’s Law: the more options you have, the more you take time to “respond” (click, choose, make any action). So, you keep scrolling to be sure you are not missing THE best option.
While I’m grateful for all these options for on-demand entertainment, I yearn for some of the simplicity of the early 2000s and 2010s. The years where you watched what was on TV — you noted down the timings of television movie premieres, or you gathered to watch episodes of that TV show/serial with your friends.
The ‘value’ of leisure
Most of us also choose what to watch or consume next by checking how much it benefits us. Not in terms of relaxation or rejuvenation. But how much value will it add to my life? In my career? To my productivity?
People on LinkedIn are trying to convince us to stop watching Netflix and watch some informative documentaries. Stop reading and do a course instead. Or stop reading a fiction book and pick up one of those self-help/entrepreneurial books because, dear god, don’t you know you’re ‘wasting your time?’
But leisure, by definition, means ‘free time — time when one is not working or occupied .’So why do we have to occupy our mind and train it to be more productive, more receptive, or more anything? Why can’t I just watch reruns, especially when rewatching stuff eliminates the need to make a decision about something new? It’s easier, puts less stress on my brain, and I feel nice after watching it!
Familiar fare requires less mental energy to process, and when something is easy to think about, we tend to consider it good. The scientific term for this is “mere exposure effect,” meaning that we like something more merely because we’ve been previously exposed to it. So there is evidence not only that we replay songs that we like, but also that—up to a certain point!—we like songs the more often that we play them.
The article where I’ve pulled the above quote goes on to explore different reasons we rewatch things — therapeutic, existential, and nostalgic. Leisure shouldn’t have to have a reason or a value, and while it’s nice to explore the reasons we humans do things, it’s okay not to use or apply it every day. Sometimes we need to give ourselves a break (and I’d venture we need to do this way more often than we do) and just watch something frivolous, something that’s trashy, something that doesn’t add to our life but is a delight to watch anyway, or something just because you want to watch it.
I’m sure I sound like my parents, but there were definitely some benefits back when we didn’t have these many choices and didn’t make entertainment a chore or a task to be ticked off our lists. We didn’t have to schedule/time block large sections of downtime on our Google Calendars, catch up on every new viral show’s latest episode, or be clueless at a party or on Twitter.
I miss having cable TV, and I miss not having to make decisions, but I wouldn’t choose that life again. What I’d like instead is an easier understanding of leisure, and entertainment and what it means to me. I’d like for it to be less of a chore, and I’d like to be more present whenever I make a choice on what to consume next — now, wouldn’t that be nice?
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Nia's Newsletter Rec!
Written by Sumedha, one of my favourite book bloggers, The Wordy Habitat newsletter is a bi-monthly dose of positivity, change, and thought. Through content creation and lifestyle discussions, you'll get something to think about and implement in every email.
Things to check out this week 💌
I've known this for a while, but it's insane that ten-ish companies own literally everything in this world: the illusion of choice.
If you were to read the privacy policies of all (major) apps on your phone, how many hours would it take? 65 hours — for a million plus words.
A very visually clear thread about the dangers of minimalist design.
Hanging out with some ghost laundry in the sunshine.
Last week, I asked you to share your cures for a bad day. Here's one:
For me, it is usually gaining perspective. When appropriate, back out of the situation(s) making it a bad day. Get away physically (a walk, a drive, a different room) and experience MORE, and something DIFFERENT. It helps you right size what is causing your bad day and maybe even help you find a way to be thankful.
Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to hit like and share this issue if you enjoyed it. 🖤
I’ll see you next week — maybe not at the same time, but definitely the same place.