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The word binge is derived from an old English dialect verb meaning ‘to soak’, hence its association with (alcoholic) liquid over-indulgence. Since its first recorded use in this sense, in the mid-19th century, the range of binge- worthy activities has extended to include eating, gambling, drug-taking, shopping and now TV-watching. The rapid increase in this last pastime inspired Collins Dictionaries to name binge-watch as their Word of the Year in 201 Binge-watching tends to involve relentless consumption of a particular show or series – made possible by streaming services such as Netflix –so is a far cry from the unmotivated channel-surfing of the couch potato.

Like other forms of bingeing, there is usually an element of guilt attached to it, but not necessarily. One writer for The Atlantic online remarked of their habit: “I don’t feel guilty or unproductive at any point. I feel like it’s a trip to a museum – I’m enjoying it, it’s enriching me…” (The Atlantic, February 2014). The gogglebox doesn’t normally get such cultural comparisons, but we should remember that novel- reading was regarded by many as frivolous in Austen’s time and that Dickens’ novels were serialised, like TV shows. Nowadays there’s no stigma in spending hours getting lost in a book, so perhaps binge-watching will be seen increasingly less as mindless escapism, and more as mindful immersion.

Written by Dr Adam Smith, convenor of the Editing and Electronic Publishing Program at Macquarie University.

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