House of Cards: Cutting the Cord from Online Dispatches

house_of_cardsWhen I finished watching the last episode of “House of Cards” the other night, I spent the following few minutes reading an article by The New York Times’ Brian Stelter.

The piece focuses on the increasing difficulty of discussing entertainment presented in a format that allows binge viewing. Specifically Stelter wonders how viewers will be able to discuss episodes on social media without spoiling it for others yet to strap themselves down for the initial gorging.

Netflix’s release strategy went against the grain of “social TV,” the catchall term for viewers who virtually watch TV together by chatting along in real time on Twitter, Facebook and other Web sites. Jenni Konner, one of the showrunners for HBO’s “Girls,” made the point this way on Twitter on Sunday night: “I don’t know how to talk to people who aren’t at least halfway through ‘House of Cards.’ ”

I am guilty of participating in social TV, most recently when I keep one hand and one eye free to scroll Twitter during episodes of “Downton Abbey”. I experience the occasional chuckle provided by a fellow viewer’s snarky observation but reading these updates is proving worse than sitting in a crowded movie theater where everyone whispers questions to their companion.

While the art may stand on its own, audiences seem to yearn for a connection away from it, pulling themselves out of bankrolled moments crafted for complete concentration and hitting the feed bar with each mouse click for another reward earned from their due diligence.

Watching “House of Cards” was a breath of fresh air. I felt released from social media’s grip for a few hours each night, able to absorb a gripping story without the flavoring presented by viewers next door or around the world.

My wife and I made dates over the past four days to be home, watch the show, discuss its narrative, and snuggle up on the sofa. I hadn’t watched television like this for some time. At university I hosted viewing parties with my roommates. We watched “Beverly Hills 90210″ and “Party of Five”. A few years later and I was overseas watching Friends on video or burned copies of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”. If you wanted to discuss the episodes you had to be in the room.

I miss those days when I connected with viewers by having them over, asking about their day, recapping during ads, and generally taking a break from our lives. Now I have one hand free to scroll and type, reporting and reading what I missed while I typed. I’m afraid to miss a comment no matter how mundane.

This is no way to watch television. Nowadays to be informed is to be distracted and I miss keeping both eyes on the television. We’ll catch up when you’re done.

This post first appeared on Medium.

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