Last Friday I watched tick, tick…BOOM! on Netflix.
I enjoyed it with a bottle of 2017 Clos de los Siete, a small block of Grana Padano cheese, and some animal crackers (essential). The movie is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s adaptation of the musical with the same name, an autobiographical tale of playwright Jonathan Larson’s life in 1990s New York City. I wasn’t familiar with Larson since I haven’t seen Rent (his most famous work), but I found his story as a creator inspiring. The evening was perfect.
Last Saturday, I quit Netflix.
I quit Netflix because at the end of my perfect Friday evening, the minute I closed my eyes and started reflecting on Jonathan Larson’s inspiring life and how I can use that to enhance my own, I found myself in a club. Netflix had whisked me past the credits and contemplative end music of what I was watching and onto Dubai Bling.
That pissed me off.
It’s a damn shame that we have instant access to all information from the history of the world, but rather than being predisposed to The Odyssey or War and Peace or Hayao Miyazaki’s magical Studio Ghibli works, there’s less friction to consuming Dubai Bling. It’s like someone invented a machine to feed us automatically, but the menu consists of an endless supply of potato chips and bottom-shelf liquor, proteins and vegetables be damned. Can you imagine a product that automatically started pouring the next whiskey soda down our throats the minute we finish the one we’re on? That would trigger an outrage, but being submissive to stimulation is just as potent, if not more, of a threat to our long-term well-being. What good is a healthy liver without a functional brain?
Content platforms have it down to a science, brilliantly dishing up sugary snacks intricately designed to keep us eating yet keep us hungry. We can all enjoy empty calories once in awhile–I love potato chips from time to time, especially those kettle cooked ones–but only when I specifically seek to put them in my shopping basket. If they’re tossed in by default, and I am forced to pay for them with my money or time or attention, I’m going to a different store next time.
So, I quit Netflix, and Facebook and Instagram aren’t too long for my world. In fact, I’m starting to take a keen eye whenever I’m fed content that I didn’t specifically seek out, and turn those algorithms off where possible. If it’s not possible, I’ll drop that platform altogether.
I encourage you to do the same.
This isn’t an anti-big tech post, either, and I don’t have any particular beef with Dubai Bling. I’m sure there are things one can learn and apply to their own life from that show, or if that happens to be the potato chip of your content diet, that’s fine too. It’s the fact that we are aggressively pushed away from any kind of digestion and reflection and towards the next snack that I take issue with.
What if content platforms simply redirected their compass to metrics that actually served us? What if, rather than measuring the number of clicks or views, they could measure the impact their content had on our day-to-day lives? I wonder how these products might work differently if they ever decided to optimize for human experience, or took a longer-term look at the secondary effects of the product decisions they base purely on cold data without a layer of human empathy applied.
That could have a real impact on how we engage with content, but I’m not going to wait for that. My brain cells, and my ability to really reflect on how I want content to serve me (not the other way around), are too valuable. You and I can spend the same hour watching the same show and get a very different return on that investment of time–it can merely keep us from being bored or it can help us grow–depending on how we engage with it. When Netflix tries to whisk you past that reflection period in service of another click, see it for what it really is: a veiled attempt to steal the return on the investment you just made.
As for me, I loved tick, tick…BOOM!, but next time I’ll watch the play instead. Because I know that when the curtain drops, I’ll be ushered out of the theatre and back into the real world to apply what I’ve just learned.