This is not a scientific article, but rather a collection of data and thoughts about a topic that interests me. Please, leave a comment below if you have an opinion.

Introduction

I recently paused to think a little more carefully about my use of online entertainment, including YouTube channels, streaming TV series and social networks in general and I would like to deepen the whole topic focusing on the negative impacts that are linked to an excessive consumption of those contents.

In the last year and a half our habits about media consumption have dramatically changed because of the pandemic restrictions and all generations have become accustomed to having more to do with online content.

Not only we spent more time in front of the TV or the computer, but we have expanded the choice of platforms on which to consume content based on the huge selection of movies and TV series on-demand (Service Video on-demand – SVoD) and the brilliant policy of original productions by the major players in the sector.

Nowadays we can literally rely on tens of social networks and online streaming platforms, many of which are so pervasive in our lives that we cannot even count the hours we spend on them.

For some decades now, when TV has also entered the homes of the poorest families, we have seen a progressive increase and confirmation of phenomena of pathological dependence on TV, but in recent years we have even had to define from scratch new standards of addiction that include Social Networks and the influence that they have on our way of developing real human relationships.

It is no longer simply a question of monitoring the number of hours we spend on them [1], but of analysing the social and psychological consequences of this behaviour.

In fact, it is a question of understanding how social networks and online streaming services have changed the way of making friends, meeting people, developing self-esteem, and finding personal fulfilment in life.

In this article I want to focus mainly on the psychological aspect of the excessive link with tv series that can be streamed online and the effects of binge-watching that made even greater the overall compound effect.

The trap of immediateness

Today’s world is dominated by speed, and this has been true ever since computers populated the homes of all of us.

The advent of the Internet is one of those epochal revolutions that not only brings with it the great potential of entire new work sectors and engineering challenges, but also leaves behind inevitable and marked social and political consequences.

Humans has been inhabiting this planet for about 50,000 years or so, and what has happened in the last 50 years has been more revolutionary than what has been human history in those last 50,000.

One of the most important things we have discovered most recently is the immediacy that today’s technologies can offer us.

This is immediacy in accessing information, creating new content, its use and communicating with other individuals.

For every positive aspect of this immediacy, there is at least one drawback that we should consider seriously in approaching those technologies.

Let us jump straight to the heart of this article, access to online entertainment content.

Instant gratification in entertainment contents

In this context, immediateness can be conceived in more than one way. The two main aspects concern how quickly we can access a content and how much we must wait for the next one to show up.

The first element represents how much time pass between the desire of accessing a content and the actual moment in which we start watching/listening to it. These two concepts are perfectly summarized in the term “Instant Gratification”, clearly explained in [2].

Nowadays almost everyone in the developer world has a decent access to the internet and the technologies that we can use to access contents are so many that it is rare that we do not have at least one of them nearby.

Those can be smartphones, which almost always remains within 1 meter of distance from us 24/7, computers, smart TV, tablets, … It is practically impossible that we do not have a suitable device less than a few meters away at any time of the day.

The second aspect regards instead how long we must wait to see the content we are waiting for published. Recent trends in online streaming services have accustomed us not to wait days and weeks for many contents, but even if they did not, we always have the choice not to wait weeks between an episode and another, but to wait until the end of a season and binge watch the whole series in one weekend.

An American statistic [3] reports that:

  • Between 2019 and 2025 the number of subscriptions to on-demand video services will grow by 173%
  • Between 2016 and 2019 the share of people subscribed to only one SVoD dropped from 56% to 24% while the share of people subscribed to 3 or more SVoD increased from 13% to 45%
  • On average, within the last decade, the amount of time spent watching TV resides around 2 and a half hours a day, with peaks for the ages of 20-24 and 75+ years old that consistently have been above 3 and a half hours a day
  • Half of the population are binge-watchers
  • 58% and 53% of people between 18-29 and 30-44 years old respectively watch all the episodes in a season at once
  • 56% of the binge-watchers stayed awake all night to binge-view streaming content multiple times

The immediateness of content access is closely related to the availability of SVoD because they represent the best way to access almost whatever content we want, whenever we want for how many times we prefer.

The immediacy of these platforms is equally comparable to digital means of communication. They are fantastic technologies that made possible things that were science fiction until a few years ago.

The idea of being able to call at no cost anywhere in the world in real time is something that even a generation ago was unthinkable. Along with the countless benefits, however, negative consequences have also been introduced.

The negative effects of instant gratification

All these technology advances we have an abnormally larger selection of sedentary activities which are undoubtedly connected to an increase of depression diagnosis, a lack of social skills and an alarming prevalence of obesity (particularly among young people). [4] [5]

An article by Maddy French [6] on The Daily Universe web magazine, reports that 10 percent of kids under age 2 used a mobile device and now in 2017, 38 percent of children under 2 have used a mobile device.

She reports that according to a research by a Birmingham Young University psychology graduate, “when we are stressed, upset or feeling down, we are more likely to turn to any of these behaviors in order to not feel those negative emotions”. This is related to the addictive effect of dopamine when we get gratification.

The addictive effect of dopamine in social media and on-demand entertainment is a scientific evidence [7], and it can have disastrous effects especially in age groups where psychological and neurological development is still ongoing.

Teenagers are the most affected because in that specific part of their life they are switching from their parents’ approval to their peer’s approval to gain self-confidence. The ease of these instant gratification systems to give feedback, even if fictitious, is a very dangerous double-edged sword.

Technology is not the only thing that causes dopamine induced addiction; we have age restriction on alcohol, drugs, and gambling, but not on social media and technology consumption. This is quite alarming.

My thoughts

I am part of the generation that grew up in the middle of the technological boom of the 1990s and 1900s; I have studied computer science and I am always updated on the latest technological trends.

However, recently I have found to be quite out of date on many trends regarding social networks.

I have spent several years using my free time with video games and social networks, but in recent times I have distanced myself a lot from these two things specifically because I sense how much their influence can greatly limit other more relevant aspects of my life.

No one has ever prepared us to face this technological revolution because it has been unique in the history of humanity, and the speed with which it has occurred has made it impossible even for previous generations to learn to raise their children in this context.

So much so that nowadays the adult population incurs mistakes and addictions in the same way as the younger ones, who until a few years ago were reprimanded for their inability to detach themselves from the technology they had at their disposal.

What is lacking more than anything else is a widespread and conscious culture of the use of technology and its effects on our lives and on psychological development, particularly of children and adolescents.

The average widespread inability of the population to search for correct information, and because of the technology itself, to develop interest in complex topics, makes any mechanism of self-control very difficult.

The process that leads to curiosity and finally to knowledge is always complex (and becomes more and more so as science progresses); instant gratification feeds itself because it increasingly prevents people from inquiring with conscience and deepening complex concepts.

My conclusions

Technology addiction is a huge problem is our society and will become even worse if those who create this technology and online services do not increase their responsibility in the effects that they are causing on people.

It is more important than the profit of a single company. It is a matter of leadership and growth of a society more aware and less “deceived” by marketing and the illusion of satisfaction generated by things, in fact, irrelevant.

I strongly recommend Simon Sinek’s speeches, which often deal with this subject. You can find here a link to one of my favourites.

References

[1]        OFCOM, “The Communications Market 2018: Narrative report – Ofcom,” Aug. 02, 2018. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/research-and-data/multi-sector-research/cmr/cmr-2018/report (accessed Apr. 19, 2021).

[2]        N. Patel, “The Psychology of Instant Gratification and How It Will Revolutionize Your Marketing Approach,” Jun. 24, 2014. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/235088 (accessed Apr. 19, 2021).

[3]        A. Watson, “Binge-viewing in the U.S. – statistics & facts,” 2020. https://www.statista.com/topics/2508/binge-watching-in-the-us/ (accessed Apr. 19, 2021).

[4]        M. L. Ybarra, C. Alexander, and K. J. Mitchell, “Depressive symptomatology, youth Internet use, and online interactions: A national survey,” in Journal of Adolescent Health, Jan. 2005, vol. 36, no. 1, pp. 9–18, doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2003.10.012.

[5]        G. M. Reeves, T. T. Postolache, and S. Snitker, “Childhood Obesity and Depression: Connection between these Growing Problems in Growing Children.,” International journal of child health and human development: IJCHD, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 103–114, Aug. 2008, Accessed: Apr. 19, 2021. [Online]. Available: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18941545.

[6]        M. French, “Technology may have negative social effect on kids – The Daily Universe,” Apr. 12, 2017. https://universe.byu.edu/2017/04/12/technology-may-have-negative-social-effect-on-kids/ (accessed Apr. 19, 2021).

[7]        R. Burhan and Jalal Moradzadeh, “Neurotransmitter Dopamine (DA) and its Role in the Development of Social Media Addiction Corresponding Author* Introduction to C 8 H 11 NO 2,” International Online Medical Council (IOMC), Nov. 2020. doi: 10.35248/2155-9562.20.11.507.

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