Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Netflix Procrastination

An interesting (if obvious) observation:

Netflix reveals something about your own behavior you should have noticed by now, something which keeps getting between you and the things you want to accomplish.

If you have Netflix, especially if you stream it to your TV, you tend to gradually accumulate a cache of hundreds of films you think you’ll watch one day. This is a bigger deal than you think.

Take a look at your queue. Why are there so damn many documentaries and dramatic epics collecting virtual dust in there? By now you could draw the cover art to “Dead Man Walking” from memory. Why do you keep passing over it?

Many studies over the years have shown you tend to have time-inconsistent preferences. When asked if you would rather have fruit or cake one week from now, you will usually say fruit. A week later when the slice of German chocolate and the apple are offered, you are statistically more likely to go for the cake.

This is why your Netflix queue is full of great films you keep passing over for “Family Guy.” With Netflix, the choice of what to watch right now and what to watch later is like candy bars versus carrot sticks. When you are planning ahead, your better angels point to the nourishing choices, but in the moment you go for what tastes good.


-David McRaney

This is funny, because while I can absolutely relate to what he's saying, Netflix actually has the opposite effect on me. As the above quote indicates, I have a long list of artsy foreign dramas that I mean to watch. I've had such a list (either on paper or in my head) for decades. But, in the age before Netflix, I never really got around to watching many of them. The truth is, I really DON'T want to watch The Passion of Joan of Arc or Wild Strawberries or whatever. I want to have watched them. So whenever I would go to a video store, they'd always be competing with some horror or exploitation flick, and they would usually lose.

When I signed up for Netflix, this dynamic changed, because now I have a queue. And if I put one of those movies in my queue, they will eventually come up, and I will watch them. So far, this has only failed once: I did send Pandora's Box back without watching it (I was prepared for silent drama, but nobody told me it was two and a half hours long!). OK, there are two films that I keep moving down in my queue: 1900 and Eraserhead (which I haven't seen since high school), the former because it's 6 hours long, the latter because it's just really disturbing. But overall, I get a lot more of these eat-your-vegetables movies watched now that I have Netflix than I did when I just went to the video store. (Another thing I've found helpful is breaking long movies up into miniseries, and watching one hour at a time, the same way you would Mad Men or The Wire. Just this morning I finished the great Taiwanese film Yi Yi, which I had broken into three sittings.) Of course, I don't know how this would work if I switched over to watching films on the Netflix Instant gizmo. Maybe my techilliteracy is working in my favor here.

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