“What Netflix show are you watching now?”
“Have you watched Tidying Up with Marie Kondo?”
“I binge-watched one season in one day!”
At every gathering I’ve been to recently, Netflix popped up as a conversation topic. None of us had been watching cable or free-to-air television channels for quite some time.
This is a huge difference from when I was a teenager. We used to rush home from school to catch the latest shows from the national broadcaster. Also, everyone in the family watched the same thing, like it or not.
Now, most of us have our own screens — be they on phones, tablets, computers or LCD television screens. We may watch a show with others, but more often than not, our preferences and schedules differ. So we simply watch what we like on our individual devices, at a time and place most convenient to us.
Whatever your interest, there is no lack of shows to choose from. According to Flixable, a third-party Netflix search engine, Netflix offers 4,010 movies and 1,569 TV shows.
The California-based company started as a DVD-by-mail service and is now one of the most influential and popular media streaming services in the world. According to statista.com, the number of subscribers has grown from fewer than 23 million in 2011 to over 130 million in 2018. An estimated 37 percent of the world’s internet users watch content on Netflix.
There are some slight regional differences in Netflix shows, but most are offered worldwide. No matter our nationality, ethnicity or location, we can watch the same shows as other Netflix subscribers.
In this sense, the world has shrunk. Access to the same shows helps us to relate to and speak a common “language” with someone else from another part of the world.
At the same time, Netflix may widen the distance between individuals. For example, family members may now know nothing about what everyone else is watching.
In other words, Netflix may bring us closer to some, but a profusion of choice can also lead to fragmentation.
New York Times tech columnist Farhad Manjoo argues that television in the past offered “the raw material for a shared culture” because everyone watched the same thing at the same time. “In its enforced similitude, it became a kind of social glue … What we gained was a shared identity and shared experience.” But in embracing tech-abetted abundance, “we are all splitting into our own self-constructed bubbles of reality.”
The long-term consequences of Netflix culture remain to be seen. But it helps to be aware of the implications. Our worldview can widen only if we acknowledge the limitations of our cultural knowledge, and embrace different perspectives from people who may be very different from us. (Tan Ying Zhen)