It began as innocent curiosity, as most affairs do. The newness and ease of the relationship was scintillating. A small voice in my head told me it was wrong, but I gave in. From then on, it spiraled –from instant gratification to diminishing returns.
First came the denial. Everyone’s doing it. Not productive watching Netflix? I’m watching television adaptations of MAJOR fictional works! Art and production are unrivalled, key dialogues unchanged. How can these be watered-down versions of the original? [Not that I would know, never having read the original]. This is the past, present and future of storytelling, for goodness’ sake – How is it still an inferior art?
Yet, the nagging sensation wouldn’t go away. In the dim glow of my laptop screen, I would eye the bookshelf in my room, shrinking a little inside, wondering if I was missing anything.
Once the initial guilt subsided, it was time for reflection. As kids, we’ve all been berated for indulging in too much television, and asked to ‘read more.’ What is it that books have that television doesn’t?
The obvious answer is construction. With books, you’re given words to create each scenario from scratch. It’s the difference between teaching a man how to fish and feeding him.
The framing is significant – when you read, you’re seeing things from the writer’s perspective, but there’s so much room to disagree. It’s an active exchange between your mind and the author’s. This room happens to be smaller on screen – fewer elements to interpret differently. You’re almost exclusively seeing what the director wants you to see.
Pair that narrowness of view with the inability of screens to imitate what is best described on paper. For instance, in H. G. Wells’ Time Machine, I recognized a particular restlessness he describes – during sunset hours, where everything is in flux and you don’t feel quite settled. Even though he’s long gone, I share many sunsets with him. I’d love to see a cutaway scene duplicate that.
After the reflection, came the understanding and perspective. The same sensation of wanting to know what happens next in the story keeps you turning the pages of a book and lets that next episode of Narcos play automatically in 15 seconds. It feels natural.
The key difference between the two is the pause. When you put a book away with a bookmark and close the tab on Netflix [which conveniently auto-saves], is there a difference in what comes after?
Personally, reading instilled a kind of patience in me through its process – staying with a character, not rushing the plot, slowly unfolding. That patience affected what I engaged in after our rendezvous. I reflected more, wrote more and talked more. I judged the characters’ every move – morally, intellectually and superficially.
I didn’t need research –and there is plenty of it – to tell me that I’d be a more productive person if I consumed more books than films.
They say a good relationship is one that makes you a better person. Having gone through the three stages of Netflix and numb, I figured we needed to go on a break, so I could focus on rekindling an old love. That’s not to say that we’re exclusive. I can’t afford to be tied down that way. It’s a casual platonic thing now and I’m going steady with my pages.
If you’ve dumped books for Netflix and find yourself not reading enough [or television in general], think about this: We’re moving towards what is faster and more convenient, but does it also translate to better for our lives and more satisfying?