How Much Content Is Too Much?
Imagine this: it's been a long, stressful day of working from home or doing classes. Now that you have some time to yourself, you cuddle up in front of the TV or your laptop. You look for something to unwind to on Netflix. However, none of the movies or series seem appealing. You aren't in the mood for something new, neither are you willing to rewatch an old favourite. You end up scrolling through the app for an hour, only to close it in frustration.
It's not like you couldn't find anything to watch; there's just too many of it.
When the lockdown was imposed in order to curb the spread of Covid-19, people were urged to stay home except for essential purposes. While this new normal significantly hampers the regular flow of life for many, it has brought a few blessings in disguise for those with decent internet access. Since the 24/7 news outlets are preoccupied with the negativity surrounding this crisis, we rely on streaming services for a much-needed escapism. This is demonstrated in a JP Morgan research where Netflix saw 15.8 million new subscriptions in the first quarter of 2020, surpassing their estimate of 8.8 million.
One might put the extra leisure time to use by ticking off items from their watchlist, but the satisfaction begins to wear off after a while. Watching a movie or series can evoke instant gratification, similar to whenever you eat a slice of pizza or buy a new set of clothes. Yet, a long session of binge-watching can have similar effects on your brain as wolfing down too much fast food has on your stomach–you feel bloated. There's also the issue of the infinity of content within your reach, making it easy to get lost among the unlimited options. Eventually, the unchecked items on your watchlist feel like chores to do.
"Although I browse Netflix with a particular genre in mind, I tend to lose interest upon seeing the various options, which leads to indecision. After spending quite some time in deliberation, I end up picking a show which rarely meets my expectations," says Tasmim Islam Ina, undergraduate student of Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP). "I also feel a lack of motivation soon after I think of watching something. At first, I'm pretty excited to explore, but as soon as I start looking for movies I lose interest."
According to American psychologist Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less, an excess of choice can pose a daunting challenge to consumers. As a result, they tend to stay within their comfort zones instead of carefully choosing. The often subpar outcome may result in regret or anxiety over failing to select a better option. Schwartz may have been inspired from a research conducted by psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper in 2000, where consumers were asked to choose from a large and small array of flavours of jam. Although interest in the larger assortment was more likely, the consumers were more inclined to make a purchase from the smaller one.
The findings from the book and study can also be applied to how we view content. Overwhelmed by the seemingly endless options, it's no wonder we like to narrow them down, even at the expense of quality. These days, algorithms do the work of helping us stay within our comfort zones by detecting our preferences and providing curated content. On the other hand, algorithms might discourage us to find out content on our own by telling us what they think we like, which is not always spot-on. Just because you put on a lo-fi music playlist while studying doesn't mean you'll always want to listen to similar kinds of music. The algorithms can also struggle to figure out what consumers with an eclectic taste would like to see. This, in turn, may be beneficial to those users as they would more likely be actively seeking out content to their unique preferences.
Anika Tabassum, 20, concurs, "I personally think it should be up to users to choose what they want to see. People have their own interests, and they are likely to choose shows and movies they think they will enjoy rather than whatever the algorithms give them. Then again, algorithms can help people find shows similar to their recent watch history."
Tasmim holds a different view, "The option of having a personalised list based on my watch history can help filter other things out, but after some point even the list seems boring. Hence, there's no enthusiasm in looking for shows."
This lack of motivation might eventually make one turn away from streaming platforms altogether, at least for a while. Wading through so many confusing options can make one feel emotionally exhausted, resulting in detachment from looking for entertainment. These feelings allude to common symptoms of burnout. Although there has been no conclusive study linking non-productive activities and burnout, the syndrome can affect anyone and is not limited to job holders.
While taking a break from watching movies can free up your mind, going days without entertainment while staying mostly indoors may also be detrimental for your mental well-being. To solve this, you can try improving your choosing strategy. Nobel laureate economist Herbert A. Simon was known for his work on decision-making. He classified consumers into two groups: maximisers and satisficers. The former share similar traits to perfectionists; they want to know for certain that their choice is the best one available by considering all the other options, but it's impossible to sift through the millions of shows or songs in a streaming platform's library. On the contrary, the latter don't stress over the quality of what they have chosen, nor do they compromise their standards. They usually stick to the first choice that suits them and stop exploring further. Thus, they end up feeling more satisfied with the outcome.
In the coming days, the production of content will only increase and give rise to more options, but there's no need to consume beyond your capacity or worry about better alternatives. Therefore, the next time you decide to watch a movie, just sit back and relax.
1. American Psychological Association (June 2004). Too many choices?
2. Experience Magazine (November 13, 2019). On Netflix and Spotify, algorithms hold the power. But there's a way to get it back.
3. J.P. Morgan (May 1, 2020). Media Consumption in the Age of COVID-19
4. Psychcentral.com (May 19, 2020). Are you Feeling Emotionally Exhausted during the Pandemic? You May Be Experiencing Burnout
Adhora Ahmed daydreams too much. Send her reality checks at [email protected]