The anxiety of inertia: binge watching as death drive 

I’ve been reading the psychoanalyst Josh Cohen’s Not Working: Why We Have To Stop for the last few days, during a week in which I have been forced to stop by a chest infection which prevented me from making a trip to Sweden I’d been looking forward to for months. It’s a useful time to read the book because my mood this week embodies its core concern, as I realise how ill equipped I am to stop. The most success I’ve had has been through the narcotising effect of Netflix, surrendering myself to auto-play in order to watch the entirety of You and The People Vs OJ Simpson

In the process I’ve been struck by how little space I experienced between action out there and compulsion in here, with the former providing a rhythm to my days which the latter obliterates. If I understand Cohen correctly, the problem is the limited character of that rhythm, as we come to find security through a constant motion orientated towards external factors forever escalating in the demands we place on ourselves and encourage in others. He has a vivid description on loc 119 of the fidgety activity which comes to substitute for rest in this state:

The emblematic image of our culture is the panicky phonechecker, filling in any interval of rest or silence, on the train or at the family dinner table or in bed, with emails and work documents, or else with social media updates, addictive games and viral videos. Nervous distraction provides the only relief from a perpetually incomplete to-do list. Not working becomes at least as tiring and incessant as working. We know we have no choice but to stop, yet doing so makes us so fearful, scornful and guilty.

It occurs there’s something of the death drive in binge watching. An embrace of what he describes in his patients as “a wish for the world, or themselves, to dissolve” (loc 162). It’s well known that Netflix see ‘sleep as the enemy’. But I wonder if they also see rest as the enemy, capitalising on the anxieties of inertia in order to ensure a surrender to the algorithmic void in lieu of a winding down an recovery of rhythm. 

If the breakdown of an established rhythm is something we increasingly struggle to cope with, how are persuasive technologies capitalising on this and entrenching it in the process? I’m still not well but I’ve deleted Netflix from my iPad, as much as I want to watch the OJ sequel. There can be something profoundly deadening about extended binge watching, even though it entails a degree of sustained immersion which would seem cultivated if performed in relation to other media. 

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4 Comments

  1. You got a watch “leaving Neverland“ I think that’s a little more entertaining and a lot more disturbing than the O.J. Simpson thing😄. Hope you feel better

  2. Somehow I feel like you are in the UK. In any case, on national public radio here in America on Wednesdays there is a show https://www.npr.org/2019/01/24/687707404/creative-differences-the-benefits-of-reaching-out-to-people-unlike-ourselves

    Called the hidden brain, that’s a link to one of the Podcasts one of the shows. But last Wednesday he put on a show that was about how social media in particular watching experts do things on YouTube prevents people from actually doing things in their lives. I listen to about half of it and I think his point was pretty much that it’s more pleasurable to watch an expert and you actually think that you’re gaining knowledge by watching this expert and they’re not doing anything or something like that.

    But being that you’re a social media guy it kind of sounded like something you might be interested in.

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