As I’m sure most stressed students would agree, the beginning of the school year is a turbulent time, and leaves us longing for a comforting reminder of home. Many of us deal with these tensions by reaching for the remote and flicking towards an old show that we have watched far too many times to count. Whether it is the nostalgia this show brings, the relaxation it is associated with, or the feeling of stability and control that it provides us with, it cannot be denied that there are few other pleasures in this world that bring the same sense of comfort. Are you, like me, that person that tends to leave the ‘My List’ section of Netflix, which provides you with an endless amount of new worlds to delve into, untouched, instead reaching for the familiar comfort of the ‘Watch it Again’ section? If so, this may tell you why.
Some may raise a skeptical eyebrow and question the purpose behind this ritual, as refusing to sway from the familiar may seem absurd in a cultural world where such a great range of media is accessible. However it is, for one, the predictability of these familiar shows that so greatly appeals. Knowing what is about to happen, perhaps even to the point where you can recite the show word by word, makes this experience low effort. This low effort watching is appealing to students who, during term time, have expended so much effort elsewhere, primarily on academic pursuits.
Making it even more difficult to escape this cycle of predictability, is the low attention span of this generation. It has been reported that the average attention span of a Generation Z individual is only around 8 seconds, a whole 4 seconds less than that of Millennials. Therefore, if a show is unable to grasp your attention almost immediately, you will begin to lose interest. This decreased attention span may be due to the increased popularity of apps such as TikTok, which is based on the premise of seconds long videos, carefully selected to cater to your interests, being available at the swipe of a finger. We have now become so used to this form of instant gratification, that expending more effort and displaying patience is a challenging prospect. Inevitably, this has impacted other areas of our lives and daily habits, such as our selective watching of television shows.
While many of us may share this experience, what makes this phenomenon so fascinating is the way in which different people draw comfort from different shows, depending on personal association with a particular individual experience. Therefore, the habit of rewatching shows is not just a social phenomenon, but a personal one. It develops as a result of personal upbringing, as well as social media. Those raised in a particularly lonely environment are more inclined to seek comfort from lighthearted situational comedies such as Friends, New Girl, or How I Met Your Mother, in an effort to live vicariously through these characters and insert themselves into these dynamic friend groups. While, in reality, they are not a part of one of the respective friend groups, they feel as if they are. Studies by Shira Gabriel, reported by Michele Lent Hirsch in EverydayHealth, found that ‘”We did not evolve to differentiate between the real groups in our lives and the ones we see on TV. Even though we know they are not real, they feel real to us”‘. Watching these old shows again months, or even years, later evokes a sense of nostalgia and brings forward fond memories of friends we once knew.
So, whether you are rewatching 10 seasons of Friends this autumn, or listening to the Gilmore Girls chat back and forth about obscure pop culture references, then happy watching!
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