Rules about Media Consumption

I have a media consumption problem. Binge watching a whole season of a series in the span of one or two days is not an uncommon thing for me. Or spending anything from 3 to 12 hours a day watching YouTube.

12h and 10m of daily YouTube watch time in the week of 20-26 December 2021
Daily YouTube watch time of one week (20-26 December 2021)

But all this time is not spent watching. Most of the time the content is playing in the background while I am doing other things. Which has the effect that I don’t remember what I have been watching or I am not focused on what I am doing. A net negative either way. Why am I doing this?

Since the end of December 2018 I have started to realise that something has gone horrible wrong in my life. One morning I was reading through my RSS feed backlog which was full of articles I thought to be interesting, but not important enough to be read right at the time I discovered them. And after going through a few of these I realised that I was not interested in reading any of them at all. And yet my backlog at this point had over 1000 entries. I asked myself the same question. Why am I doing this?

After that moment I started to ask myself this question more and more about every aspect of my life. This eventually led me to the minimalists and I became obsessed with the idea of letting go of things that don’t bring value to my life. Not just material things but also in the digital realm. I deleted my RSS feed and backlog; I closed various social media accounts; I stopped doom scrolling. I let go of so many things that I started to have a lot more time on my hands. And while I initially filled this time with some creative endeavours such as video editing or working on some programming projects, they faded away once I started a new Job in April 2020. The stress of starting out at a new Company in the midst of a National Lockdown while also fearing for vulnerable members of my Family got to me. Video content became a welcome distraction from everything. A sort of escape from reality.

And after almost two years it brings me back to the question: Why am I doing this? It is obvious to me that I can not continue in this state as it does not add any value to my life. My creativity and mental wellbeing are suffering which manifests in a form of anger that I feel towards myself. Anger that results in defeat towards any action because finding new distractions is too easy. YouTube is a bottomless Well of content.

I have tried to fight against my YouTube obsession by enforcing a total blackout in October 2021. I deleted the app and did not visit the website for a whole month. I also refused to click on embedded videos in articles or video links shared in the work chat. But the YouTube shaped hole got filled by Netflix and other video streaming platforms. I could be more radical and block any form of video streaming service but I am questioning what a complete deprivation of any form of entertainment would achieve in the end. The truth is that I enjoy watching a good movie or series. I like interesting stories told through the visual medium. I get enjoyment out of good video editing and single take scenes. And I also enjoy some form of educational or entertaining YouTube content from independent creators. What I need is a set of rules to follow, instead of a total blackout.

I got inspired by Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism and it gave me the idea of writing down some ground rules around my media consumption. This is by no means an exhaustive list and I will have to edit it as I figure out what is working and what isn’t. I have broken the rules down into three categories: Series, Movies, and YouTube. The YouTube rules include other similar video content websites like it but YouTube is by far my biggest time sink.

Series:

  • When watching alone one episode of any series is permitted per day.
  • When watching with company two episodes of any series are permitted per day.
  • The maximum amount of episodes per day is limited to two. If one episode has been watched alone only one more episode can be watched with company. If two episodes have been watched with company no more episodes can be watched alone.
  • Watching a movie or episode of any series on the same day is not permitted. With or without company.

Movies:

  • Only one movie is permitted per day. With or without company.
  • Watching a movie or episode of any series on the same day is not permitted. With or without company.

YouTube:

  • YouTube Shorts are to be avoided as they lack depth and value.
  • Any number of videos can be watched if they are for a very specific purpose (eg. I need to fix my sink so I look up “how to fix a sink”. Or I want to know about a product that I intend to buy soon).
  • Any videos that do not serve a specific purpose other than entertainment will be limited to one per day (eg. Vlogs, Podcasts, Gaming, Stream recordings, Comedy).
  • If a video is recommended by someone, and watched with them, the limits do not apply as it becomes a social activity.

The intent for these rules is to limit my overall consumption of video content on a daily basis and transform YouTube into a tool used with purpose rather than mindless consumption. I acknowledge there is a lot of room for interpretation of these rules. For example if my intent is to learn about the events of the last couple of weeks I could spend the whole day watching videos without running out of things to watch. If this ever becomes a problem I will adjust the rules.