A few weeks ago, I purchased the first season of the HBO show, “The Wire” on iTunes. Despite the fact that this particular week I had a prelim, a paper to write, and tons of reading for various classes, I became glued to my computer screen and watched thirteen hours of the show in only three days. I was immersed in a fictionalized Baltimore drug operation, setting aside the rest of my life and what should have been my priorities. Though I am yearning to find out what happens in season two, I am terrified of purchasing the next season because I know I will forget about all of my real responsibilities.
My situation is certainly not an anomaly on the Cornell campus. According to a recent survey with a random sample of Cornell students, 70% admitted that they prefer to watch television online in multiple-episode sittings as opposed to one episode live on a week-to-week basis. While the medium of television was originally designed for people to watch in the manner of the latter case, the popularity of DVD’s, Hulu, iTunes, and for those illegal-users, Megavideo, has changed the way we watch television. Many students admitted to watching up to ten episodes in one sitting. This, in comparison to the average 1-2 hours of live television Cornell students watch in a week, is astonishing.
“Last finals week, I watched about twenty episodes of “Lost,” Rachel Medin ’14 said. “I know that I had so much work to do, but I just couldn’t stop. It was hard because it’s so addicting and it was all in front of me, so I would just watch episode after episode and not study.”
Despite the fact that watching blocks of television can help us to escape our daily lives , some TV critics and even students here at Cornell argue that watching multiple episodes at a time takes away from the television-watching experience.
“I definitely enjoy watching an episode per week,” said Alyssa Leventhal ’14. “I have a “Gossip Girl” column for The Cornell Daily Sun and there is certainly an advantage of absorbing only one episode at a time. You need the break, sometimes.”
Though it might be convenient for us to have everything right in front of us, television writers tailor the stories so that the viewer can reflect each week between shows. I watched “Lost” on live television every week. Yes, it was annoying to wait those long days to find out the answers to those extremely tense cliffhangers, but part of the fun of watching it live was that everyone else was watching it live, too. I would go to school the next day and have great discussions and arguments about what the hell was happening on that damn island. The writers of “Lost” and other shows like it definitely take the communal aspects of television-viewing quite seriously when they are creating the storylines. The ability to watch TV whenever you want and however you want takes away from the watercooler element of the medium.
As the semester comes to an end and the work starts piling up once again, what should we do about our television-watching habits? I have taken a vow to watch only one episode a week of each show. Though this might result in up to three to five hours of online-watching, it is a lot better than my usual habits of watching seven hours of “Arrested Development” straight. So let’s put away our DVD’s of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and actually experience some sun for the first time in months. And lastly, we only have a few more weeks. Jack Bauer, Liz Lemon, and Mr. Schuester aren’t going anywhere. So let’s focus on our schoolwork, and save our ten-hour blocks of “South Park” for May 21st.