Netflix has become our standard paradigm of relaxation and free time. It’s even pervaded our intimate lives, think of how quickly we suggest “Netflix and chill” when we want to spend time with someone else.
We are mostly satisfied with any series or film that will help us escape a little from our worries. We would laugh rather than think and absorb rather than question. So when the credits roll, we typically find ourselves in the same place as before—entertained, but unchanged.
It is only human to seek comfort. We are wired to seek passivity over effort, safety over uncertainty because it poses no danger to our wellbeing. So let’s accept our need for comfort, but also realize that where there is no risk, there is also no growth. Media theorist Neil Postman said once,
There is nothing wrong with entertainment. As some psychiatrist once put it, we all build castles in the air. The problems come when we try to live in them.
The castles are the worlds inside the screens that we immerse ourselves in at the expense of our immediate reality, which may be characterized by boredom, loneliness or anxiety. This kind of escapism is safe, for it cushions us for a while from our own selves and its myriad preoccupations. It’s easier to watch Netflix than it is to do something that will actually face us with our thoughts! But only when we are in full touch with ourselves can growth – and real wellbeing – begin.
Here is a list of four things that we can do on any day, either by ourselves or with each other, that are better than Netflix.
We are so single-mindedly focused on our purposes that we almost forgot how to reap the deeply nourishing benefits of walking as a purpose in itself.
We lead lives surrounded by stimuli that compete for our attention. We hurry everywhere as though in a jungle hunted by a wild feline that will eat us alive as soon as we stop chasing our next stop. But when practiced with mindfulness, walking can become a profound and pleasurable reconnection with our bodies. Thich Nhat Hanh, in a book titled How to Walk, taught the practice of mindful walking:
When you walk, arrive with every step. That is walking meditation. There’s nothing else to it.
Whenever we walk, whether to university, work, the supermarket or the club, we can invigorate our presence, anchoring ourselves in the here and how.
Walking can also help us to reconnect with nature. To bask in the sun, touch the bark of a tree, look from up close at the budding leaves and blossoming trees. So the best solution is a walk in the park, away from artificial lights and noises.
Unlike screens and museums, nature does not ask of us to understand it. It only asks us to slow down and be present. If you ask me, we need nothing more than walking and nature to replenish our mental, emotional and spiritual energy.
Although this is an unexpected entry, cooking has some goodness to bring into our lives that Netflix can’t. I am talking about sensuousness and creativity.
Last week I talked about creativity with a stranger. As a software engineer, he was telling me how the analytical thinking required by his profession has shaped his entire mind, and his thinking. I recognized my own tendency to over-analyse and tire my mind out, so I suggested that he exercise his creative drive in order to balance out the rational mind. “You should cook,” I said.
Cooking is a creative act. We can conjure a whole universe of flavour out of spice-dust! We get to exercise with our senses, shut down our mind and play around with many ingredients. Also, there is nothing like the satisfaction of a tasty, hearty dinner cooked with our own two hands.
We also get an extra skill under our belt, something to be proud of – for creativity in the kitchen is a sensual and refreshing trait to see in a person, indicating they learned how to enjoy the process of creation. So if for no other reason, cook more in order to nourish your sensuality, which will also fire up your attractiveness.
“Together and chill”
My alternative to “Netflix and chill” is “each-other and chill,” or “talk and chill,” or “silence and chill.”
Netflix unites us in joint attention, because we both attend to what’s happening on the screen. However, we don’t attend to each other. At best, we can discuss interesting ideas we grasped from the narrative, and this sometimes makes for a nice conversation.
Personally, I would rather invest my attention in something much more complex – another human being. And I would rather talk about something richer than a fictional narrative – our inner lives.
The sensations we get out of viewing are not as full-bodied and immediate as being with another person, touching them and talking with them. To sit with my lover in silence, gaze into his eyes and discover ever deeper layers of our relationship – this is something I would choose any day over a Netflix date.
Books & TED Talks
Our minds are like sponges—even if we watch the latest episode of some series, we invest mental energy in its fictional events. So why not learn something in the process?
Cognitive media theory proves that fiction exercises our brains, too. We get to engage with a world similar to our own and recognize patterns, which our brain is very good at: patterns in human relationships, social dynamics, narratives and the natural world. To be able to recognize more patterns we need a framework, a background of knowledge – or understanding – that will enable us to make sense of all the things we perceive on a daily basis.
This knowledge comes from reading and educating ourselves. We are lucky enough to have information on any topic we might want to know more about: history, cosmology, psychology, quantum physics, personal development, relationship dynamics, cognitive science—you name it, we can learn about it. All of these things are useful in our lives in different ways, and the more we learn and understand (not just memorize), the richer we will become as human beings.
It is nice to burst out laughing watching a sitcom, but, it’s even nicer to read or listen to something that makes me re-interpret the world differently and broadens my perspective.
To wrap up, I will quote the great sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, who said:
Why do I write books? Why do I think? Why should I be passionate? Because things could be different, they could be made better.
Netflix symbolizes everything that negatively affects us in our society. Distraction, passive absorption, disconnection are all behaviors that the consumption of films/series promotes, unless we are intentional with our consumption habits. To overcome these traps, we can stay mindful of what we consume and bring forth – in our relationships, work and free time – the change we want to see in the world.
- If we want to be surrounded by people with healthier emotional lives, let’s nurture our emotional lives first.
- If we want to see more creative solutions to our problems as a civilization, let’s feed our minds first so that we can be creative.
- If we want fun and love and light, let’s make our alone time fun, love and light first.
- If we want to see less apathy and boredom, let’s bring more passionate action and genuine social connection between us.
Our society is not some abstract entity that has nothing to do with us – it is nothing like a castle in the air. Society is made of us. We are responsible for how we conduct our lives, what we accept as good and what we use to fuel our growth. In the words of James Baldwin,
We made the world we’re living in and we have to make it over.
We have to start with ourselves. Netflix and screens do not have a solution to any of our issues. Only we do.
Featured image via Unsplash.