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The five stages of watching television

I remember for the longest time, my personal computer and laptop doubled up as my television. It was a blissful time of willful ignorance of anti-piracy laws and the boom of peer to peer torrent downloads. Well, I can admit that now! I am an honest taxpayer in the present day and proud to announce that I contribute healthily to the global OTT industry every month.

And no, that's not an understatement. In the bid to avoid using cable TV, I have now subscribed to the following - Netflix Prime Video Disney+Hotstar Zee5 Sony LIV Apple TV+ Thank god that I've not felt the need to subscribe to Youtube premium yet! 😅

Anyway, one of the main reasons why I've loosened my purse strings this freely over the past few years is the 55' monster of a television in my living room. Watching pirated content on mobile and computing devices is easy and organic, but it is exponentially trickier to do so on television, however 'smart' it may be!

You need to download the torrent, compressed generally, with an H264/5 codec. Then you need to find a compatible player on their TV, which will play this codec without any hiccups. Then you'd need a high-speed USB drive that can support 4K streaming without any lag. Once all these hurdles are through, you can only cross your fingers and hope for the best.

And thus, the ability to make a modest living and the extreme affordability of OTT content in India finally led me towards an honest living. Now, I pay for 99% of the content that I watch.

Honestly, the remaining 1% is only the content that is so scandalous that it's pulled off the networks before I can chance upon it. So inadvertently, that is some stand-up special on Netflix that took it one step too far. 😏 -- cough -- need to watch The Closer -- cough --

Anyway, burning a respectable hole in my pocket aside, I noticed an intriguing pattern that only came to light in the context of a couch and a television. I call this 'the five stages of watching television'.

Stage 1: Active watching

This stage is the most straightforward one to explain. For instance, you switch on Youtube to watch some specific video. Usually, this video is the Apple September keynote, which tells you about the latest $1000 phone that you're about to drool over, or it's Facebook, sorry Meta's annual keynote that substitutes the one discomforting stand-up that got banned from Netflix. Mark runs quite a tight set these days, I tell you!

Usually, stage 1 also consists of watching the daily news and sporting events, but I slightly disagree with the urgency to watch these with complete attention. Sports events, most of them, entertain for roughly 1/4th of their total runtime. It's far more efficient to watch the highlight reel a day later unless the event is an India v/s Pakistan cricket match or an F1 race with a 70% chance of rainfall. 😂

But more importantly, have you noticed your posture during active watching? You sit upright, usually with not more than one edible item within reach. The audio is at the right volume, and the entire ambience of the living room is at an optimum level. But the equation flips during mealtime binging.

Stage 2: Mealtime binging

Put your favourite sitcom on, grab a plate, and eat as mechanically as the plump humans portrayed in the classic Pixar movie, Wall-E. While this is absolutely horrendous for the entire act of sourcing nutrition for your body in the right setting, we can't just get past it these days. It takes only a couple of minutes to move from just eating, to eating while watching Seinfeld, to putting something in your mouth while you hang on to every expression, which Kramer makes. 😋

Have you noticed that mealtime binging, more often than not, ends up being reruns of a show that you love or light-hearted content that does not need undivided attention? And YET, we neither do justice to the food we eat nor retain the stuff we watch! 🤷🏻‍♂️

But at least this stage of watching the television is a smidge better than the passive osmosis that I will talk of next.

Stage 3: Passive osmosis

Okay, let's do a quick science recap. What is osmosis? In its simplest form, it is the phenomenon where water content from a diluted mixture moves across a membrane into a more concentrated one to balance out the concentrations at both ends. It is similar to how heat is transferred from hot objects to cold ones to attain equilibrium.

In the television scenario, the random swill of content that we watch is the diluted mixture. Our minds, which start as a highly concentrated mixture of quality thoughts, sit across this membrane of OLED glass that we call television. And every time that you pass by the living room or sit on the couch surfing your phone or pause to scroll through a couple of channels, you are subjected to this passive osmosis.

Why is this worse than the mealtime binge? Because in osmosis, you don't even choose the content that you enjoy or one that is beneficial to you.

Funnily, I know a few people who actively subject themselves to this phenomenon while they work or have conversations! Either they are highly evolved humans who've unlocked the full potential of their brains, or, and hear me out - Youtube advertisements work like passive music for them to function efficiently. 🙄 I won't be surprised if the next decade sees curated playlists for Youtube commercials on Spotify. 😂

Stage 4: Weekend binge

This stage is the more extended form of consuming the television and probably the most wasteful of the lot. Weekend binging seems harmless until you end up doing it EVERY weekend. Unknowingly, you pretty much eat up the only two days of the week that offer some respite from the arduous activities that define the otherwise day-to-day life.

So a single weekend binge can turn into a month of no physical outdoor activity, socialization or investment in an actual hobby. Can you imagine even a year spent that way? Scary, right?

Not to mention the fact that the weekend binge is like a never-ending cycle of lethargy. You stretch sideways on the couch, surround yourself with all sorts of comfort food, and binge away, food AND television! The only time you take a break is when literally nature calls or someone else does! And just like any cyclical event, lethargy begets more lethargy. You'll order in more junk food, start the next season because the 'autoplay' feature prompts you to do so, and before you realize it, you're staring down the face of a very, very blue Monday! 😖

Urrrghh, let's change topics!

Stage 5: Blackhole gazing

While neither of the stages of watching television is great, blackhole gazing is the weirdest and funniest. It is the phase where you finally switch off the TV and stare at the black abyss.

Apart from seeing the reflection of your dazed face, you also begin to introspect earnestly. What if that past hour or day or weekend was spent doing something more productive and liberating? What if instead of staring at a 2-dimensional screen, you stepped out (with a mask) and interacted with 3-dimensional people?

I understand that 'Meta' wants to bring this experience into your homes, but ask yourselves this - would you want that as the first alternative? I mean, of course, if it's interactions with Mark that we are talking of, then virtual ones are better than in person. 😁

But, in the end, the blackhole gazing ends with a moment of truth and realization - that any stage of watching the television is overrated.

So let me leave you with this thought - do you think Netflix should renew Squid Games for a second season?

Because that'll be another weekend spent watching pretend actors hack at each other via childish games. And that gives my wife and me only one thing in return - a short term aversion to any PvP games. 😋😋😋

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