Embracing Boredom: Why I’m Ditching Streaming Video in January

Though I no longer do New Year’s resolutions (too ambitious, too inflexible, you’ve heard this already), I’ve decided to do some month-long commitments. Among my commitments this year: abstaining from most streaming video, i.e. Netflix, Disney+, etc.

I have several good reasons for this.

Until recently, I had a PS4 connected to my TV. When I would get home from work, I’d turn on the PS4 and open YouTube, and watch videos while I ate dinner. YouTube would stay on for most of the night, unless I switched to another streaming app (I had to keep up with that great Watchmen series, after all), and would only turn it off when I was getting ready for bed.

Compare ten years ago:

Around 2009-2010, I “cut the cord,” i.e. ditched my cable TV plan, because I saw what a brain-rotting exercise watching cable TV had become. Netflix streaming was just becoming commonplace, I still had a DVD plan, and there was always Blockbuster (ha!) or the library to fall back on. I’d be out-of-step with TV shows, but that didn’t matter.

Years later, streaming apps had become my new TV. YouTube is especially terrible: while there are quality video essays and lectures, there’s also hundreds of thousands of hours of Let’s Plays, restoration videos, daily vlogs, drama vlogs… Not to mention clips from reality TV, the stuff that clued in me in on how terrible cable TV was in the first place.

Guess what? YouTube is the new reality TV.

There’s another good reason why I’m taking break from streaming video: boredom.

I want to be bored again.

You never have to be bored when you have Netflix, YouTube, or any combination of streaming apps. There’s always some new hit series (hi, Stranger Things!), and when you’ve binged that, you can fall back on something familiar.

Well, about boredom: it’s the firewood of the creativity furnace. There’s a phrase among writers, “cat waxing,” that means doing useless and/or dull activities to avoid writing. Eventually, boredom (and some amount of guilt) stops you from cat waxing and puts you back in front of the keyboard.

It’s no secret that my writing output dried up in 2019. Partly this is due to my awful personal life (which I won’t get into here), but also because I never had to be bored.

Boredom also drives you to less passive entertainment. Much to my shame, I didn’t read many books last year. Again, partly due to my hectic personal life, but also because I didn’t need them for entertainment, and what I did read was out of obligation, not for fun.

As it turns out, I need boredom to be my best self.

Although I’ve made no commitment beyond January 31st, I think streaming video will have a greatly reduced presence in my life. It won’t ever be on my TV again (as of now I just have a blu-ray player hooked up), and if I subscribe again, it’ll only be watched on my iPad.

Boredom isn’t pleasant, but it’s hardly the worst feeling ever. Additionally, acknowledging and inspecting unpleasant emotions is a good practice in general, and is one of my goals this year.

This is hardly the only thing I want to achieve in 2020. However, to get anything else off the ground, I have to have a firm foundation. And that means I’ll have to get really, seriously bored first.