All I Do Is Scroll Netflix Forever. Does That Count as Entertainment?

When I pull up Netflix at the end of a long day, sometimes it takes me an hour just to decide what to watch. I think this makes me pretty lame. Though maybe I’m also hoping you’ll tell me that endless scrolling is a perfectly valid new form of entertainment? —Doom Looper

Dear Doom,

You may vaguely recall the “Surprise Me” option, which Netflix introduced during the pandemic. The feature, basically a glorified shuffle button, was designed precisely for users like yourself, Hamlets of the streaming age, tragically frozen by indecision. The fact that it was quietly removed last year, apparently due to “low use,” would seem to favor your theory about scrolling as a new form of entertainment. If people like you will not relinquish the burden of choice to an algorithm, then surely you’re all getting some kind of perverse pleasure from your indecision.

You could argue, I guess, that unrealized possibilities are the best form of entertainment there is. Just ask all the people who continue to browse Zillow even after they’ve purchased their “forever home,” or who secretly scroll through the apps once they’ve committed to a monogamous relationship. All the beautiful faces you left-swipe will remain perfect in their potentiality, unmarred by the grating voice, the weekend sweatpants—all the sad realities of embodied personhood. The home you never purchase will always be a Platonic ideal, without the headaches of incontinent gutters or unruly neighbors. The movie you scroll past, night after night, will never disappoint you with expositional dialog or a predictable ending.

I can already hear the dissenters rallying: Rewards require risks! Nothing ventured, nothing gained! I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but I don’t really think it applies to your problem. Like the “Surprise Me” feature, those truisms assume that chronic indecision stems from a surfeit of tantalizing choices—that there’s just too much good content out there, and that perfectly satisfying options are being ignored for the possibility that something better might be just around the corner. But let’s face it, we don’t exactly live in the golden age of cinema. If your catalog is anything like mine, it’s full of reboots and recycled IP and docuseries that are cravenly trying to capitalize on the success of the last hit show. I’m fairly certain that your binge-scrolling owes less to an excess of promising selections than a dearth of them—that it’s abetted by the depressing knowledge that you have endless options but few real choices.

We’re all complicit in this. Next time you find yourself unsatisfied with the narratives on offer, get off the couch and create something better.

I hate closed captions. My partner can’t watch TV without them. Help. (Not referring to foreign-language stuff here.) —Eyes Up

This one is a pretty easy, Eyes. Your partner is incapable of doing without closed captions. You’re merely annoyed by them. You lose.

Why is it so difficult to interact with screens in dreams? —Power Down

You appear to be among a minority of humans, Power, who have encountered a screen in their dreams. Browse any Reddit forum on the topic, and you’ll find endless conspiracies attempting to explain why these devices that we check hundreds of times a day are absent in the melodramas of our REM cycles. (A couple possibilities: Phones are karmically transparent; our unconscious, which knows we’re all in a simulation, regards all of reality as a screen, so representing devices could risk infinite regress.) When we do dream of digital technologies, they’re impossible to use. The phone is made of wood or stone. The laptop screen is full of nonsense numbers in tiny, unreadable fonts. None of the apps open. Text threads are reduced to endless green and blue bubbles full of gibberish. It’s like a retelling of Alice in Wonderland written by William Gibson.

The dreaming mind is fundamentally archaic. It’s a machine that is constantly rewinding the trajectory of human progress, haunting us with primitive fears and ancient archetypes (snakes entering the garden, rivers running with blood) that have been long-slumbering in the collective unconscious. Sleep is pretty much the only time your lizard brain, the amygdala, runs free without the interference of the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s tireless fact-checker, which represents the logical mind that knows how to process abstract ideas, log in to Instagram, and make a Venmo transaction. Many people find reading and writing to be nearly impossible in dreams, which makes sense given that literacy is (relatively speaking) a fairly new technology. Our history with screens is even slimmer—barely a blip on the timescale of human history.

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