Two months without streaming a single movie or TV show on Netflix? When my co-worker first proposed this to me as a personal challenge, it seemed impossible. After all, I’m the type of person who binge-watches entire series over the weekend and who is always streaming video content on the go. But, never deterred by a challenge, I decided to give it a go. I gave up Netflix for 60 days.
Once I decided to give up Netflix for two whole months, my entertainment schedule seemed to be a disaster. This must be how people feel when they go on a juicing diet – you start to question how you can possibly follow through with it. There just didn’t seem to be anything to do with all those empty hours in front of me.
But that’s when I decided to take control of all those empty hours in my life formerly filled by Netflix. I started by actually taking a closer look at what was on live television. The problem here was that I had cut the cord with cable TV a long time ago, so it meant that I was limited to getting broadcast TV shows. And it meant actually looking at the TV schedule for the week and planning my time accordingly.
This was perhaps the hardest part – at least at the beginning – of giving up Netflix. It meant that I was no longer free to consume content anytime, anywhere. It meant that I had to be on the couch right at 8:00 pm if I had any chance of watching primetime TV shows. And it meant that all of my multi-tasking habits had to be changed accordingly. If I wanted to watch TV, it meant that I had to give up my tablet or phone.
With Netflix, the great thing that I missed the most was the recommendation engine – always getting helpful tips about what to watch next. Staring at the TV in front of me, I reverted back to my old ways – just flipping channels incessantly, fervently hoping that something – anything! – would be on TV. Only I didn’t have hundreds of channels, because I didn’t have cable. Instead, it meant that I had a handful of channels to choose from. And the commercials seemed to be everywhere! Every time I turned on the TV, there were commercials for medications that I couldn’t possibly use (or, at least, hoped that I wouldn’t possibly ever use).
By week two, I had abandoned the whole “let’s rely on broadcast TV” strategy as a way of watching content. Sure, it was fun to catch up on some of the sitcoms I had heard my friends at the office talking about, but what I really missed were all the movies. And, to be honest, there just weren’t a lot of movies on broadcast TV. Plenty of sitcoms and dramas and celebrity news programs, but no movies! And certainly not any art house cinema movies, or any quirky movies – the kinds that I loved Netflix for finding.
So I turned my attention to other things. I realized that all my Netflix binge-watching had been seriously cutting into my gym time, so I started going to the gym every other night. Previously, I might have watched a Netflix show while on the treadmill, but now I was forced to watch the monitor in front of me, showing my progress as I raced around an imaginary (digital) track.
Working out for a change was certainly good for me. Not only did I feel like I had more energy, I also realized how watching Netflix had ingrained certain behaviors in me that weren’t exactly conducive to losing weight or getting into better shape. For example, I loved to munch on chips while watching a movie at night. I bought “low fat” chips or “organic” chips, but still… chips are chips. So by cutting Netflix out of my nightly routine, I was actually helping to work wonders for my diet.
This was the week that I resolved to set up more social meetings to hang out with friends I hadn’t seen before. The first brunch date went well, but something seemed to be off – suddenly, I didn’t have as much in common with my friends. We used to talk about the latest episode of “Game of Thrones,” or discuss all the cool new movies coming out on Netflix this month, and now I was drawing a blank. As part of my “no Netflix for 60 days” strategy, I was doing my best to avoid reading any online content that might possible remind me of my glorious Netflix days.
Was it just me, or did it seem like Netflix was inserting itself back into my life in ways that I couldn’t have imagined? All of my email newsletters seemed to have a reference to Netflix, or some new show coming to Netflix. Every time I walked down the street from my home, it seemed like there was a billboard for a new Netflix original show. My social media feeds seemed to be filled with people talking about some Netflix show. It was just 30 days in, and I was beginning to feel the effects of Netflix withdrawal.
OK, I admit it. Week Five was originally going to be my “cheat week.” I knew that I could get through the first 30 days without Netflix, but to keep myself going for the full 60 days, I knew that I knew some kind of Netflix fix. I still wanted to observe the 60-day ban, but wow! It was getting more and more difficult. So I started to watch Netflix trailer videos on YouTube. I started to check out which new shows and movies would be hitting Netflix at the end of the 6o-day period. And I started to gravitate toward entertainment shows on TV, desperate for some connection to my Netflix days.
This was the week that I resolved to get through an entire novel. Yes, I was going to beat this Netflix challenge by going Old School. I was going to read an entire novel, cover to cover, during all the extra hours in my schedule that I used to fill with Netflix shows. I looked through my bookshelf and found a title that I had ordered from Amazon Prime years ago, but had never picked up. This was perfect! It was going to get me through the week.
But I found that my all-digital lifestyle – consuming all content on my tablet, or streaming on my TV – had made me flabby when it came to handling a written novel. In the same way that hitting the gym had seemed strange and unnatural after such a long absence, so was actually committing to a period of reading. In silence. With no TV on in the background!
Two weeks, and I would be done. This was the week that I decided to fill my hours with social media. I started to check out all the “live” broadcasts that my friends were doing, and I started to check out all the Instagram Stories my friends were creating on a daily basis. But you know what? All those brief snippets of video activity only made me realize how much I really missed Netflix. You can’t fill an hour with random “live” video clips that people post on social media, and certainly not the same way you can with a Netflix movie.
The Netflix detox was finally over! Somehow, I had made it through the full 60 days without watching a single TV show or movie on Netflix. It was finally time to add up all the pluses and minuses to see how it had changed me.
Most importantly, this 60-day challenge made me realize more than ever before how many digital entertainment options are out there that aren’t named Netflix. Believe me, I had sampled a lot of them, and I was now more attuned than ever before to their advantages and disadvantages.
And I had become a bit sharper about life in general. Going to the gym more often had given me more energy, and watching only broadcast TV had made me watch the nightly news – something I hadn’t watched for years. And I became a bit more knowledgeable about the level of programming on primetime TV. There were actually a lot of good shows on these days!
Would I do it again? It’s hard to give an unequivocal answer to this question. Much as some people go on juicing diets, or go on a social media detox, the idea of going on a Netflix detox diet still seems like more of a stunt than anything else. I still can’t imagine not having Netflix in my life. Old habits die hard. Once a binge-watcher, always a binge-watcher. Maybe I was watching too much TV, but I always told myself that I was watching “quality TV.” Somehow that always made me feel better. At the end of the day, I felt an affinity for the Netflix brand, and what it promised. And I loved the endless stream of content that always seemed to be available. If other people want to cut their ties with Netflix, OK, that’s fine. But I’m planning to hold on to my Netflix.