What Every Christian Should Know About Netflix

(This is a guest post from my wife Sarah Balogh.) 

Netflix is a giant in the world of entertainment. They’re the world’ s largest internet television network, with 100 million members in over 190 countries.

And I’m one of those members.

Lately, however, I’ve been rethinking my membership. No, it’s not because of the recent controversy over their latest show, ‘13 Reasons Why‘ (although that’s a valid concern). There’s another reason why I’m concerned about Netflix.

Photo courtesy wikimedia.com

You see, a few weeks ago the CEO of Netflix –  Reed Hastings – tweeted the following:

 

Now, I’ll admit there have been times where I’ve succumbed to the ‘Netflix Binge’ and suffered for it the next day. In the past, I would have said to myself ‘that was dumb‘, and written it off as self-affliction. But in the wake of Reed Hastings’ tweet, I’ve found myself brewing a nasty broth of anger:

It’s one thing for me to sabotage my own sleep patterns.

But for a company to deliberately design a product for sleep deprivation, and worse, skite about it –  well, that’s a whole new ball game. Their blatant disregard for their customers, and their goal of global sleep deprivation has me rethinking my Netflix use.

Sleep and Mental Health

In my day job, I’m a Psychologist. When I counsel a new client, it’s routine for me to ask how they’re sleeping. Why? Because too little sleep (or too much!)  correlates to poor mental health.

And so the fact that Netflix is targeting sleep as their major competition is a potential problem for viewer’s  mental health.

But wait, there’s more:

Designed for Addiction

As if CEO Reed Hastings’ earlier tweet wasn’t controversial enough, here’s another revealing statement he made:

When you watch a show from Netflix and you get addicted to it, you stay up late at night. You’re really — we’re competing with sleep..” [page 10, emphasis added]

Netflix actually wants you addicted – and they’re not even hiding it. The shows they produce (which seem to be ever on the increase) are designed for addiction. Chief Content Officer of Netflix Ted Sarandos said:

Our own original series are created for multi-episodic viewing, lining up the content with new norms of viewer control for the first time.”

They’re selling it as ‘viewer control’ – but the aim of their game is addiction. And in that case, let me suggest that they are the ones who want control – control over you.

Technology Is Never ‘Value Neutral’

I’m all for recreation. And I’m the first to admit that on a Friday night my husband Akos and I will sit down with a good glass of red and watch an episode (or two!). I’m not against Netflix – or any technology – per se.

But I think we need to become aware of one important fact:

Technology is never ‘value-neutral’.

All technology has a designer,  and these designers have goals or values that they ‘build into’ the technology. These goals and values influence the way the technology is used, which in turn shapes the user’s behaviour.

So what do the designers of Netflix value? What goals do they want their technology to achieve? Here’s a list I thought of:

  • Instant access to their content 24/7;
  • Speedy delivery of content.

And so how do the above values shape the behaviour of Netflix users? Well, there’s no surprises here:

  • Users will want to keep watching Netflix long into the night, putting Netflix ahead of sleep;
  • Users may become compulsive viewers, hooked onto one of the TV shows.

So what do we do about it all? How should Christians respond to Netflix?

From Subconscious Consumers To Conscious Users

Few people wake up in the morning and think – ‘Tonight I’m going to binge on Netflix, and be a tirade of a mother tomorrow because of a lack of sleep.‘ That’s not how it works, is it? We don’t consciously make the decision ahead of time to prioritise Netflix over sleep. But I think that’s the point, and it’s where the danger lies.

Too often we’re subconscious consumers. We just use the technology – and don’t think about how it’s influencing us. And so my purpose is to propel you towards the conscious use of technologies such as Netflix.

To counteract the values of the technologies we use – including Netflix – we need to be driven by God’s unchanging values. Otherwise, the technologies we use will (subtly!) shape and influence our behaviour – and not always for the best.

Now let me be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t use technologies like Netflix.

By all means use Netflix, but with your eyes wide open. Use it knowing full well their goal for you – to become a sleep deprived addict – and how it differs from God’s better plan for you: a planned summed up beautifully in passages like Titus 2:11-12 

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…

Now the Psychologist in me can’t finish this post without giving some specific practical advice.

Set a Regular Sleep Time

Netflix doesn’t want you to sleep. So if you’re going to watch it, figure out a regular sleep time and stick to it, because I can guarantee you, when the next episode of  “Crown” says it has 3 seconds to load before continuing, you will be tempted.

If you’re watching Netflix at night, install software such as ‘f.lux‘ on your computer. It filters the blue light from your computer screen at night, which will help you sleep better.

It’s also good practice to go to sleep around the same time each day (give or take an hour or so). Try and maintain this routine.

Who’s in control?

We’ve seen that Titus exhorts us to live self-controlled lives. This means exerting choice and saying no when necessary.

But I realise that for some readers self-control around Netflix will be hard, and you may even be reading this article wondering, Am I addicted to Netflix? So, here are a few questions to get you thinking about your relationship to Netflix:

  1. Have you cancelled other plans in favour of watching Netflix?
  2. Are you pre-occupied with thoughts about a series, anticipating your next viewing opportunity?
  3. Are you irritable if you’re unable to watch Netflix?
  4. Do you feel an increasing need to watch more to feel satisfied?
  5. Are your periods of binging (watching more than one episode in one sitting) increasing?
  6. Do you lie or keep secret the amount of time you spend watching Netflix?

Now, the above questions are in no way a diagnosis of any kind (for that you’ll need to see a professional), but the answer to these questions may reveal just how much control Netflix has over your everyday functioning. If you feel that your Netflix use is excessive and significantly affecting your life, then book a time to see a local GP or Psychologist.

And finally, please seek godly counsel from a mature Christian, who can encourage you to live for Christ rather than that next episode.

Resources: 

For further reading on this topic from a Christian perspective, I recommend Tim Challies’ book The Next Story: Life and Faith After The Digital Explosion.

For more information on internet addiction per se, please visit netaddiction.com

 

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12 thoughts on “What Every Christian Should Know About Netflix

  1. Hi Sarah (and Akos), my policy is simple: I only watch that which lasts little beyond my ironing and clothes-folding routine – I watch while I work. That’s enough time to watch, say, an episode of Foyle’s War, or an episode of a documentary.

    Ironing and clothes-folding happens once a week, so it’s a small indulgence. I do not like the idea of just ‘flopping’ in front of the TV; that makes it too easy to become addicted to something like Netflix.

    During the week, after the kids are in bed, and after Bible reading, I finish my nights reading a chapter of a Michael Horton book, followed by prayer with my wife. I tend to wake up in the morning with doctrines pinging in my brain. That is joyful.

  2. Great advice though one doesn’t to have Netflix to become addicted. Regular TV episodic shows often have 2 or more episodes of the same show that can tempt one to keep watching. It’s happened to me. Precisely the reason why I watch very little tv. I tend to watch my own dvds. That way when it’s finished there’s nothing more to tempt me. ☺️

  3. “Technology is never value-neutral” – great insight. As someone involved in new technology design, I know first-hand that it’s easy to get carried away with the latest and greatest breakthroughs. And to be fair, a lot of amazing things we take for granted have come about because engineers pushed the boundaries and built the first just because we could. But it’s so important to think about why you’re doing it, not just what you have to do to make it work.

    • Glad you liked the “Technology is never value – neutral”point. It’s certainly an important one to grasp. Akos is great at helping me with thinking through those types of things.

  4. Netflix works around the same ideas as any 24/7 technology entertainment business this includes social media its ideology is to own you 24/7 so its not just the lack of sleep that is happening but also the time during day that is consumed by the availability of these services through mobile devices. We have become great consumers of fantasies these fantasies are beyond the fairy’s and pixies it has jumped into extreme graphic horrors of violence, sexual explicit acts. Lack of sleep is not Good for your mind for sure but the thing you are watching can be far more dangerous to your mind as it has the ability to entertain things that you would never have thought about.
    So i think its very important to look at how much time is spent and what we watch i . As Christians we need to ask the question how much time am i spending praying, reading Gods word and spending time with others sharing the gospel story. This life God has gifted us is not just a Sunday thing or a singular worship (not share with anyone) but all of life is worship to Him in all we do its sharing His story that interwines our own.

    • Hi Trevor,

      Yes all very true – Technology can be a massive time waster! And also your point about what content we are filling our minds with is also important.

      Cheers Sarah

  5. Great post! Thanks Sarah.

    Those last question could be helpfully used for any thing we use for entertainment. I’m thinking of computer/mobile phone games personally.
    Thanks again.

    • Pleasure. And you are right – you could apply those questions to other forms of entertainment/technology. I need to ask myself sometimes, what am I willing to sacrifice in order to watch that next episode…sounds corny, but kinda helps.

  6. If we were having this conversation just over fifty years ago we’d be asking “Should Christians go to the cinema, the local dance or buy a TV etc .etc. etc.”

    Today we call these people “legaists” – but they were able to recognize back then the dangers to Christian growth,godliness, and welfare, far better than this generation that has grown up where these things are now ingrained into society.
    Adding to the problem many adults often see mobile phones, tablets, computers, Netflix etc. as “baby-sitters” enabling them to do other things (even using technology themselves). The kids are being addicted by parents without either recognizing it.

    A sobering thought: having our faces into screens for “leisure activities” for 2 hours a day means 750 hours or 31 days or one whole month each year being totally unproductive.

    Each 12 years means one whole year doing nothing but staring at a screen.

    I wonder if at the end of our lives we weighed up how many years we’d done this and compared it with how many years
    we’d spent reading, meditating, and praying around God’s Word, would we be shamed by it?