How much tv is too much tv?
June 8, 2013 7:48 PM   Subscribe

I'm sort of new to watching tv. But thanks to Roku and Amazon Prime, I'm all "whoooooa this is awesooommmmeee!"... for, like, an entire day. How do I know how much tv is 'normal', since I'm prone to being sedentary and depressed at times, and really can't tell?

I know it sounds odd but I recently discovered the joy/escapism of watching tv shows in a row and it's a bit addicting. Like, over the past month I've watched maybe 2 seasons of Arrested Development and I'm almost through season 4 of Parks and Rec. Today has been a bad day, where I've been watching TV almost all day. On one hand, I'm enjoying myself. On the other hand, I feel like I should be cleaning my apartment, exercising, etc. (I have also been tired as all get out, so this is probably not helping me do any more than just watch TV and eat. :/) Can you please share how you monitor your tv time/keep your tv-watching in check?
posted by ArgyleMarionette to Grab Bag (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Americans watch an average of 2.8 hours/day of TV (, and it's probably wise to be below average on that statistic.

If it's interfering with chores, exercise or socializing, it's certainly too much.

I don't really monitor my TV time, but it's a low priority task.
posted by grudgebgon at 7:59 PM on June 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

On a weekday, I might watch an hour or so a day. Some days I watched none. Basically, I have a few shows that I follow and if it is on, I watch it. Otherwise, I do not just pass through the channels (or the series available on my streaming services) looking for something to do. The issue is not that TV is "bad" but that I just have a few hours of free time each week day so I spend that with my wife and kids for the most part. What time is left as "me time" is usually spent on one of my hobbies, usually language study.

On weekends, I might watch 1.5 or two hours. It isn't something that I monitor, but this is just how it works out because I have other things that need doing and tv is low on the list. I am with grudgebgon on this one.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:02 PM on June 8, 2013

This is going to be hard to say. I don't think the answer is going to be an amount of time. I think the answer is going to be "as much time as allows you to care for yourself, keep your household clean, pay bills, stay connected with the world, and make progress on your goals."

I say this because I am not depressed, but I watch TV, when I do it, in a similar way. There's no cable or broadcast TV in my house, so I only watch things at all when I have time for them, online. I watched all of Downtown Abbey this winter in about 3 weeks, in a January binge. I've found a couple British archaeology series that I watched obsessively last fall. I watch several episodes in a row of The Office or The Daily Show or Parks and Rec some weeknights before bed. I'd rather not parcel it out day by day, but enjoy the long run of unbroken entertainment.

But these times (I really do think of them as binges) are the exception rather than the rule. Even during them I still get up, shower, eat breakfast and go to work. I still do things with friends. I still break away to study or read a book or exercise. I guess I think of 1 day spent in front of TV shows, in winter or when you're sick or in a quiet time, as fine and a break from the usual routine that can be refreshing and relaxing. But 2 days or more without getting a break for body, mind, and spirit could start to go in a bad direction. That doesn't mean it's bad to watch 2 days in a row, just that if you are finding you stop doing all the other important things that keep people healthy in life because you just want to numb out to TV, it's probably a problem. If I put off basic, necessary life stuff to watch TV for more than one day a couple times a year, I'd see that as a sign to worry about myself. If I spend a few evenings a week watching a couple shows after I've done all the other usual stuff and led a full, rounded day, I don't really worry about that.

So it's not a number of hours. It's what else is going on, and what, if anything, it's keeping you from doing that you really need to do to stay healthy.
posted by Miko at 8:07 PM on June 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

I tend to do feast or famine when it comes to TV. I pretty much try not to add any new shows to my lineup, but I definitely go through spurts where I burn through several seasons of a show, then don't watch anything for months.

I also try and wait until a series is completed before I start watching. When the weather is nicer (now), I watch next to none.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:19 PM on June 8, 2013

Today has been a bad day, where I've been watching TV almost all day.

Your choice of adjective here kind of answers your own question, doesn't it? Generally I find that when I start asking myself whether I'm doing something too often or too much, it's because I am.

Don't worry about what's "normal". "Normal" doesn't matter. The effect on your life matters. Based on your posting history I'm going to go ahead and say that sitting in front of a tv all day is probably not where you want to be right now.

I mean I get the impulse. I'm prone to it too. Use it as a reward if you have to. Exercise in front of the TV, if that helps. But don't use it just to fill the day, that never goes well in the long run.
posted by ook at 8:22 PM on June 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Is it making your life better or worse?
posted by bongo_x at 8:31 PM on June 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm prone to sitting down and watching a whole season of a show in two days if I have the time. Life/work balance is already an issue in my chosen career, but it was getting to where I was spending all of my time at home not wanting to move, and potato-ing it out in front of the TV. So, I bought a Fitbit. I wear it on my wrist so that I can make sure I'm moving enough throughout the day. If I get home and I haven't hit my goal yet, I make myself go for a run or a walk. No television until I'm home for my run - I'm running 5 days a week on average now, and I still have time most evenings to watch something before I go to bed.
posted by honeybee413 at 8:37 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

The whole premise of Infinite Jest (though I haven't read it) is that television isn't a "bit addicting". It's as addicting as a drug because it does similar things to your brain, and it's correlated with depression (whether it causes depression is another matter).

I've never had "TV" (in the sense of cable or local stations) but a few months ago I found that even Netflix streaming was too much TV for me and went to a DVD-only plan. I also removed my screen from my apartment's main room so that it wasn't the hearth that it is, so commonly, in American homes. Watching movies is now a treat and I read a great deal more and am probably happier on the whole.

One other thing: if you're wondering whether you do too much of a thing, keep track of how much you do it, religiously. Your records, and the act of making them each day, will help answer the question for you.
posted by seemoreglass at 8:40 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

In my case, the answer is "none." Most of what people watch on TV is shows. A single show could be 60 hours of video or more, and it's probably plotted in such a way as to make you watch episode after episode. If you don't watch most or all of a show up to date, you may feel socially behind (at least it seems that a lot of people do...), and it probably isn't as satisfying to miss a chunk of a season, especially with tightly plotted shows. I generally find it much easier to limit myself to movies unread.
posted by Nomyte at 8:58 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I love television. Love love love it. What I try to do is to keep myself a little bit "hungry" for television - like, always stop when I'd kind of prefer to keep watching, instead of when I'm totally sated - and then use it to bribe myself to do all the things I know I should be doing. Making a big, complicated meal, for example, which normally involves a lot of boring vegetable chopping, becomes a treat to look forward to if I know I can put on an Arrested Development. Ditto cleaning - my living room, where the TV is, is the cleanest room in my house. I also love appointment television with friends - once a week, you have a reason to meet up with people whom you might otherwise let a month go by without seeing. I also try as best I can not to watch TV during daylight hours - I think I'm actually lucky in that having the TV on while it's light out reminds me of being home sick from school and kind of grosses me out, although I sometimes end up staying up too late as a result. Anyway, those are my rules, and like all good rules, they're sometimes made to be broken. I wouldn't beat yourself up about a binge every once in a while, but if you feel bad about how much you're watching, that's probably a good sign you need to cut back.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 9:12 PM on June 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I honestly don't like TV, precisely because it can suck me in. I've gone on those binges before, on Mad Men and House, and with the new season of Arrested Development and everyone harping about it, I have this desire to watch what others are watching. But a few obstacles helped curb my enthusiasm; maybe what you need are those little obstacles that stops you from plopping down immediately on your couch and hitting "play":
- Cut out streaming. Not having the on-demand option seemed to help a bit for me.
- Limit to a few episodes per day. A lot of shows are built on the cliffhanger idea nowadays, making you want to see the next episode right now. Say nope, "I'll save it for another day".
- Maybe cut cold-turkey? I cut out Netflix entirely one day. I knew there were so many great shows out there, but no is no. Most of my screen time is now spent on mostly movies and Youtube.
- When the weather is nice, take a brisk walk. Go to a café. Nap in the park. Anything to get you outside and out of the mood to watch TV.

YMMV of course.
posted by curagea at 9:35 PM on June 8, 2013

It's not the amount of time, it's about whether you own the TV or if the TV owns you.

If you have made a conscious decision that watching TV is what you want to do in your spare time, then do it and no-one gets to have a go at you for it (unless of course you miss appointments because you're stuck in front of the TV). Is it the *best* way to spend your finite amount of leisure time? Maybe, but probably not, but it's still a legitimate choice.

If you're finding that you're watching TV to the exclusion of other things you want to do or should be doing, then you have a problem.

I tend to do the binge thing - a season of something over a week or weekend, then nothing for at least a month. I also was TV-less for about 6 months, and when I got it back, I was so used to not having one that I never watched it to the same extent again.
posted by pianissimo at 11:08 PM on June 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I get depressed, too, and also don't move around enough, and they feed off each other. I find that the more I move, the better my mood is, the better I sleep (also helping my mood), the more I get done (ditto), and the better I feel physically. My addiction is the internet and what's been helping me lately is using a version of the Pomodoro Method. In the morning, I make a list of the (sedentary) schoolwork I need to do and a list of the (mostly nonsedentary) chores, exercising, and other things I need to do. Then I alternate between them--30 minutes of schoolwork, 15 minutes of chores, etc. And sometimes I let myself surf the internet during my break time. It helps me keep up with all the various aspects of my life at once and not sit around too much. I got the idea from Unfuck Your Habitat (when they talk about "20/10s" they mean 20 minutes of housework or whatever the dreaded task is, then 10 minutes of break, then back to housework, etc.) So you might use TV watching as your break time after 20 or 30 minutes of doing other stuff, just so that you don't fall too far behind on it; I know some of the folks on UfYH do that with their favorite shows. And it may help you get "unstuck" from the tube if you know you just have to do other stuff for a short period before you can go back to it.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:09 PM on June 8, 2013

I also love to bingewatch, so at least some of the time I try to do something at the same time as watching TV. Either folding laundry, or brushing the dogs, or doing a craft, or painting my nails, or whatever.
posted by radioamy at 11:22 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I consider myself an above-average film buff (most recently: watched Wim Wenders's Paris, Texas, Criterion edition, over two nights including German-language interview with director), and I have a sort of game plan (because there was a long time that I couldn't keep up with film and TV at all) that involves watching a movie a night, plus one sitcom, plus one drama if time. Sometimes if time is short I substitute an SNL or a documentary. It works pretty well. I can never, ever binge-watch, though. I hate the way episodes of a TV series blend together in your mind, and really feel I'm not enjoying myself. It doesn't help that I have a ton of things on my to-do-lists that I'd be avoiding if I did that, anyway. For the movies I bounce around like crazy -- classics, summer blockbusters, foreign-language comedies -- and for TV I generally have three series of each genre queued up (e.g. Downton Abbey, House of Cards, and TNG). By stretching out TV series this way I get a nice mix of genres and get to feel like I'm giving each thing due attention.

Sometimes I get a little weary of paying close attention, film student style, and end up playing Freecell on the tablet while half-watching, adn I feel guilty for that.

Basically, I think if you're asking yourself the question you're exceeding the limit.
posted by dhartung at 2:35 AM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you are watching on a portable device you could try to take it with you: watch/listen to one episode while you do the dishes, wipe the counter and cut up some veggies for dinner. Straighten up the living room or sort through your laundry. Two birds with one stone, you know, none of this activities requires that much attention on its own.
posted by travelwithcats at 2:59 AM on June 9, 2013

We have an ipad that we use for Netflix streaming. If I want to watch something else, I need to get it from the library.
My general rule is that I can watch TV at the gym (usually Millionaire because that's on when I'm there), or Netflix on the weekend. And that's kinda it.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 5:15 AM on June 9, 2013

Similar to another poster, I can love me some extended TV viewing, but what keeps it in check is an inability to watch TV during daylight hours except if its very dark and rainy outside. I don't know if its a holdover from my parents telling me to turn off the TV and go outside as a child or because my family's TV was pretty unwatchable during the day due to glare. In either case, this habit limits me to reasonable amounts of movies and TV in my free time and could be a good one to develop if you think your screentime is getting out of hand.
posted by whitewall at 6:03 AM on June 9, 2013

The key to the defiition of too much for me is when any activity spoils my health or happiness. One of the things I do to make sure that doesn't happen is to be aware of my excesses and to try to moderate them before they do harm. Looks to me like you have it in mind so action should be easy.
posted by BenPens at 6:11 AM on June 9, 2013

As a kid, probably like most people who grew up in the 80s-90s, I watched far too much TV-- many hours a day. It is very easy for me to fall into the habit of just watching. As a result, one way I measure if I am watching too much TV is if commercials annoy me. If they don't, it means I have become accustomed to them and am watching too much. If they do, then it tends the limit my TV watching in-itself.

Now, the problem is that with watching shows on DVD, I don't have that same measure. And I haven't come up with a good way to work around that yet, other than only having so many episodes available to watch at a time. So, maybe either limit yourself to 1 DVD at a time or create a playlist (can you do that with videos on Hulu/Netflix?) and only watch that much per day or before needing to do something productive.
posted by chiefthe at 7:28 AM on June 9, 2013

Maaaannn I watch way more than all you guys! I work full time, 8-5. Sometimes I'll start an episode of HIMYM or Golden Girls right before I leave for work, like 10 mins or less of the show. I'll go home on my lunch break and finish that, and maybe start a new episode. When I get home from work, I do all my chores and get my clothes ready for the next day, and then veg out for most of the night. Sometimes I'll hang out with a friend, sometimes I'll "exercise" while I watch (just using my Wii fit board like a step block, which is nothing but I figure the movement is better than nothing). That's just for the days my boyfriend is out of town (3 nights per week). When he's around we grocery shop and garden and cook together, but still usually catch a movie or episode of X-files or something. I've been marathoning HIMYM though, and when that's over I may go back to reading obsessively. I'm a big ol' introvert, though, and if I don't get at least an hour or so a day of just couch time with the dogs and nothing else, I feel cheated.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 7:53 AM on June 11, 2013

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