The Netflix Complex

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First up I want to state something. Netflix is awesome.

Before Ashton came along, Olly and I already had a good relationship with our Netflix account.

When I was too pregnant to move or go out anywhere, Netflix was there. When I first went in to labour, Netflix was there. I didn’t realise it at the time, but my waters broke while I was watching Netflix.

Actually, I watched a whole series through my contractions. I can’t remember much about it, unsurprisingly, but I do remember sitting on my pink gym ball, bouncing up and down, breathing through the pain thinking “Isn’t it great that I have Netflix to distract me?”

When we finally brought our new baby home we were shattered. We were exhausted. We were scared. We rarely left the house. We still turned on Netflix.

And you know what - I’m not ashamed to say that. I know I’m not alone.

It’s been a bit of a phenomenon for the average household. “Netflix and chill” was perhaps the most overused statement of 2016 and things haven’t let up since then. Whole series receive cult followings overnight and binge-watching your favourite series is now the new normal.

Yep - Gone are the days of waiting with anticipation for your weekly show to air in its allocated time slot.

Let’s think about - Netflix (and everything similar) has almost entirely changed the way we consume media entertainment and what we do in our down time. Perhaps that’s what frustrates me a little. I’m annoyed that we’ve given Netflix so much sticking power!

The other night for example, I’d put Ashton to bed and was waiting for my husband to come home from the gym. I’d turned on Netflix but when I tried to watch my current series I was served up an error message.

“Sorry, Netflix is having trouble running your title right now”

What? Uuuum… What do you mean trouble?

Suddenly I was hunting around the internet, looking for answers (because I am not tech-savvy whatsoever). Before long I’d found the Netflix error code and self-diagnosed the problem, but now I was stuck.

How on earth could I de-route the blocker we were supposedly running on our device? That’s clearly a sentence not written in English.

“Netflix is down! What are we going to do?” I exclaimed as Olly walked through the door.

 “Oh okay…” Olly said, “Let me take a look…”

“Well… or we could just talk tonight?” I kind of blurted out without thinking.

We could what?

Hmmm… Houston, I realised, we have a problem. What was this foreign "talk" I spoke of?

Okay, I’m exaggerating a little. But seriously, our nightly routine involved Netflix over dinner as soon as the baby was in bed. Somehow Netflix had weaseled its way into my relationship and I hadn’t even noticed.

It was until it wasn’t working that I realized there was a gap in our evening.

We were watching some pretty awesome shows, I’ll be honest, but none of them were better than talking to and unpacking life with my partner, yet Netflix and chill was the norm. It had the priority.

Was I putting more time into my Netflix shows than I was my spouse?

Do you ask yourself a similar question? There are tonnes of new parents out there that have had to transition from the DINKs life (Double-income, no kids) as we have and it’s not an easy transition.

Before Ashton, Olly and I used to meet each other at the gym after work, do a class or session and then pick up Japanese food on the way home. That was a thing. If that was interrupted it was because we were meeting friends, or hitting the mall on their late nights for a spot of shopping. On quiet Friday nights we pulled out all our drinks and made cocktails on the coffee table while watching conspiracy theories about alien attacks and ghost stories and other weird stuff on YouTube.

A baby changed all that. A baby changed EVERYTHING.

Now our nights mean one thing: Ashton’s bedtime. You have to be home for that. Every. Single. Night.

As much as I can blame our current Netflix addiction on a baby, the app is not at fault here. I mean, it shouldn’t change is your ability to communicate with your partner and it certainly should not be the axis of your evening.

Perhaps it’s time we all started to consider what we’re missing when we dedicate our time to Netflix and chill.

In fact, I wonder how different my time looks away from all my screens, not just Netflix. What happens when I take away television, lap top and smart phone? Where does my attention focus?

When the screens are away, I can lie on the floor and dissect each toy with my son. We can spend ages staring out his window, with his little arms resting on the ledge while he coos at the cat or the wind blowing in the trees. We can play peek-a-boo for oh…. Probably an hour…

With my screens away I can actually ask my husband how his day has been and care about the response I get back from him. That’s so important. His job can be really stressful and while he’s good at not bringing work home with him, sometimes he actually needs to. When Instagram isn’t up, he gets 100 per cent of my attention. I’m being honest.

When Netflix is off I get work done. Housework, career work, blogging, teaching work.

When Netflix is off I have time to do what I love, READ.

So if there’s all this great stuff I could be doing without the aid of smart devices, why do I use them? Is it just because it’s easy? Mindless? Predictable?

I’m sure that we would all agree that Netflix is not at all more important than our families. It’s not more important than our physical or mental well-being, and it’s not more important than our spirituality.

We know that to be true. So why is it so hard to change our habits?

That night, after I suggested we spend the evening talking, Olly managed to reset the browser. It fixed everything. Clearly my Netflix error investigation had been in vein.

With my epiphany now done, with all these new thoughts in my head, I need to be honest with you guys.  Did we turn Netflix off that night?

Nah. We still watched our show.

That’s the thing, I’m not out to say the life of a Netflix user is a bad one. I’m not saying delete your account and never watch television again. 

But can I encourage you to turn off your screens every so often? For you and for your family.

Here’s a couple of rules I aim to put in place when it comes to entertainment technology in our household. We are yet to implement some of them, but we’re trying.

Re-prioritise your down-time

  1. Make dinnertime a device-free zone.
  2. Have a “switch-off” time each night. For example, no Netflix or television after 9pm.
  3. Invest in a good ol’ fashioned alarm clock and leave your smart phones in the living room every night.
  4. Create a jar of activities (adult or not!) and alternate between the jar and Netflix each night of the week after the baby goes to bed.
  5. Invite friends (without kids!) over for dinner and catch up, instead of turning on the box.

These simple little changes might make for a healthier Netflix relationship. It’s all about balance, but it’s a very hard balance to attain.

After all, your favourite shows will always be there, waiting, ready in the instant at your command. The best things in life, however, will never be. They will never be controlled by your beck and call, so don't miss them. They are an essence, a feeling, a memory… a lifetime.

They happen outside of a 42’ inch LED square.

Rachel Chen