I’ve been a streaming native since day one. Before Netflix launched in Germany, I had already tested most (smaller-version) streaming services on the market at the time. And before that, I heavily relied on DVDs of my all-time favorites to get me through tough work weeks.
„I need to direct my thoughts at something else“ or „I just need two episodes to just tune out for the night“. When I got tired of my favorite re-runs, I would turn to quasi-informational YouTube content, telling myself that it was a good change to feed my brain with, as I called it, socially relevant topics (pseudo-economic discussions, TED talks, odd videos on the rise of minimalism and tiny housing – don’t judge me).
Netflix was my go-to solution for winding down from a meeting-jammed day at work. It seemed to calm my over-performing brain.
Up until a few weeks ago, I was a firm believer and advocate of letting thoughts settle and mingle quietly in the brain while watching some form of content or story unravel before my eyes (this can be synonymous for movies, YouTube or Vimeo videos, etc. for other people).
And then I made a radical decision: I let my DSL contract phase out without having an immediate replacement in place. Inevitably, I had to cancel Netflix. Which floored my visual-content consumption – my defacto lifeline to American culture, or so I believed – to z e r o. Within a day. On top of that, I was on vacation. So going to work would not alleviate my internet needs in any way. And my mobile bandwidth was not an internet flat by far.
I called it being neo-progressive, that elusive form of progressive progressivism only border-lining social adventurers choose voluntarily. I also called it internet detox because with the exception of my phone, I was officially off the internet grid. I was being truly Gen Z now, relying solely on my mobile lifeline for – everything really.
On Day One it felt liberating, crazy, freeing (especially the fact that I didn’t chain myself to a two-year DSL contract when I knew a location move in a year to be an absolute). I listened to music – I had downloaded a few favorites in a desperate rapid-fire stunt pre-internet detox. I began re-reading a classic I had inherited from my grandfather. I drank a lot of tea. I became a daylight specialist and identified the best spots for reading during the day in my apartment. I got a massage.
By the evening of Day Three I wanted to hang myself. I had so much time on my hands, it drove me crazy. There was nothing to visually appease my restlessness or my boredom. I began noticing how ironic it was that we rely on visual consumption to ease our restless thoughts when in fact our thoughts are not restless. They are just hooked on the media, like the addict is hooked on his next fix.
I was going through withdrawal.
I was simultaneously being transported back to my 20-year-old self (pre-Netflix – I was never a TV-person) and confronted with my 30-year-old habits of coping with daily consumer life (ie daily media consumption to numb the restlessness).
Visual media is propelled at us on every digital entity we use – everyday, everywhere. Our personal life journeys have morphed into consumption journeys and trajectories. I know exactly how deeply because I work in the industry of brand storytelling and communications. And it throws me into a personal conflict on a regular basis. But I have never thought of actually going so far as to quit.
It’s been six weeks since I went cold turkey. I relapsed a few times and highjacked my mobile bandwidth to tap into the last few days of my Netflix membership. The fix-bliss lasted all of 20 minutes. It made me even sicker than not having it in the first place. That’s when you start seeing your path out of the foggy delirium, I suppose.
I was still listening to music and began noticing how it fills the spacious apartment with a justification for free thinking. I stopped being bored in the evenings. I began enjoying having sweet, liberating, spacious time.
It freed up creative thoughts and ideas.
But above all, I had time to decontract my thoughts. After the initial restlessness of not fulfilling my habitual routine of decompressing in front of a Netflix series, I began to recognize that it actually didn’t decompress my thoughts. It compressed my thinking tighter and tighter into little squares of palpable density. It’s similar to cramped, hardened muscular tissue from lack of proper use: It’s tight for all the wrong reasons.
It freed up creative thoughts and ideas. I have spent the past year unsuccessfully badgering my right creative brain for some form of authentic output. And when I look back I realize that my creative product was perpetually scraping at its own potential. I changed my routines, integrated physical exercise and made dietary changes. I subjugated myself to art and culture more often. I scrutinized the types of channels I got my information from and frameworked a more inspiring media set.
It never occurred to me to question (my) media consumption in general though. Like every millenial, I thought cutting down on screen time and limiting the apps on my phone (I am an adherent to minimalism) would do the trick. And I managed those as top of my class, never having been the digitally-hooked social media type in the first place. But Netflix, my entertainment fix and crucial work de-buffing instrument was never put to trial.
It took losing my land- and lifeline to our great digital world, forgoing an infinite bandwidth of data possibility, to understand that unhinged media consumption in general and most media content in particular are colluding our brains and suppressing original creativity.
As the seventh week of my post-modern and by now fully intentional experiment begins, I feel my brain slowly unraveling its tightened tissue. My evening restlessness has since left me, replaced by a quiet zen-like, nurturing state. Now my only trouble is falling asleep, my once numb brain gradually releasing creative tidbits into my active mind.
I will still experience withdrawal and the restlessness that accompanies it at times, that won’t change. After all, I don’t intend on leading a hermit’s life. I am proud to be part of modern society and the digital movement in general. But I am equally proud of the first step in regaining my original creativity. And ultimately, authentic thinking that although is influenced by our times and social developments, is not storyboarded into visual formats.
After all, this is the year dedicated to authenticity. It took me the past nine months (and four years) to scrape at its meaning. It inspires me to keep questioning the way we are deluded and diluted by media. And to create and support forms of media that do not constrict our thinking but open it up.
This isn’t a noble cause but a necessary one.
Information, commentary and opinion as well as entertainment have always influenced us, from theater to books to newspapers to radio and television. But digital media is affecting us at warp-speed. It doesn’t hurt to get off at the next exit to reflect once in a while, before hitching another ride to the next information galaxy – nowadays not so far far away.