M.C. Hawes - Ethnography

Unplugged: No Hulu, Netflix or online shows for four weeks

Television shows have a great realm of influence in my life. When I miss a show I can hardly wait until the next day to watch it on Hulu. If I am bored, I immediately turn to Netflix to watch a series or movie I have never seen before.

I view this type of technology as a way to instantly gratify my need for entertainment. As this technology has become more popular and prevalent, my patience for other forms of entertainment has waned. I find it a lot easier to get involved in a TV show versus a book.

Because of this, I am giving up these specific online viewing site (Hulu, Netflix and CBS.com) for four weeks. I would like to see if not watching as much TV will have a positive affect on me. By this I mean, will I start using my free time for activities like reading, spending time outside or getting ahead on school work. I view all of these things as positive outcomes.

I would also like to see how my feelings toward this particular technology are after four weeks without it. Will I appreciate it more? Or will I view it in a more negative light?


My typical Hulu and Netflix use is beyond ridiculous. Over winter break and into the beginning of the semester I watched all 8 seasons of Monk. That is at least 6,720 minutes or 112 hours spent in front of a computer. During a normal week I watch the following shows online, through Hulu or the individual show sites:

• The Office
• Bones
• 30 Rock
• Grey’s Anatomy
• The Big Bang Theory
• Parenthood
• How I Met Your Mother
• Glee
• Parks and Recreation
• Cougar town
• Better With You
• Modern Family
• Teen Mom 2
• Jersey Shore
• Community

So adding all of those up, I spend approximately 7½ hours watching new episodes of TV online. I also spend a great deal of time on Netflix watching series that I never saw before or my favorite series. Some recent ones I have watched are:

• Law and Order SVU: The Eleventh Year
• Skins Volumes 1 and 2
• Monk 1-8
• Bones Season 5

On top of those shows I also watch random movies on Netflix. In the past seven days I have watched nine hours of shows and movies on Netflix. Let’s not get started on the past month.

Because of this obvious online viewing addiction, I will be unplugging myself for four weeks.

Day 1

First day begins with some withdrawal. My job is less than stimulating at the moment and I could have an online show playing as background noise while I write up a news article. Instead I have settled on a Pandora station. It provides background without too much distraction.

I missed How I Met Your Mother last night and I am itching to see if there is a new episode up on CBS.com. I resist the temptation…for now.

Day 6

I am almost one week into the project and I am doing well in my quest to not watch shows online. This week I learned the importance of prioritizing. Not only work but also what shows I wanted to make time for in my day to watch on an actual TV. I discovered that some shows I used to watch do not fit into my regular schedule around classes, work and activities. However, I have started to realize that these shows are not very important to me.

I only watched three shows on TV this week. On top of that I watched some movies but found that they allow me to get more done during viewing. Watching a show on the computer means that I am glued to the computer for 25 or 40 minutes without doing anything else. While watching a movie, I can roam around my room and clean or work on my Russian homework.

An affect of not watching shows online is that I am more ready to put down my computer when I have finished whatever task I set out to complete. I do not waste time finding a show to watch. Instead, I turn off my computer and do something else.

Day 10

An amazing thing happened this week. On Tuesday I had a paper to write. Under normal circumstances I would not have started this paper until about eight at night. However, with a lack of online distractions I started my paper at six and finished it by seven thirty. Not only did I feel productive after this, but also I actually had time to relax before going to sleep.

Today is Thursday, which is a very heavy TV show night. A majority of the shows I watch come on Thursday nights. Normally on Fridays I spend an unreasonable amount of time watching the shows I missed the night before. However, since giving up Hulu and Netflix, I have tried to watch the shows I really like when they come on TV. Tonight is a challenge because I have martial art practice at 9:10, which is when Bones is on. It is really hard to miss out on watching Bones as it is one of my all time favorite shows. At the same time, I cannot justify missing practice to watch a TV show.

This illustrates one of the benefits of online show watching. If for some reason a person has a conflict when a show comes on, they can catch it online the next day. It is an alternative to Tivo or DVR, both of which I do not have.

Day 11

I gave in today. I watched Bones on Hulu.com. I could not wait to see the latest episode. I showed restraint and was able to only watch one show and then return to my normal activities although I did feel a little guilty for “cheating.”

Day 20

I am getting used to not watching shows on my computer. Through this process I have started to prioritize what shows I need to make time for in my weekly schedule. I typically watch one a night until Thursday when more shows are on. One of the nice aspects of watching shows when they come on TV is that I can do so with my roommate and talk about the show while we are watching it. It is almost like a bonding activity. I watch a show that she wants to watch and in turn she watches one that I choose. We chat and eat and generally laugh the entire time.

I have discovered that because of Hulu, I used to not watch shows on TV just so I could watch them the next day on Hulu. It is nice to not have this viewing commitment hanging over my head for the next day.

I have not watched anything online since last Friday when I watched Bones. I honestly do not miss Hulu or Netflix very much. I do not feel like my life is falling apart because I do not know what happened on Parks and Recreation two weeks ago. I like focusing on schoolwork first on Fridays and the weekends versus catching up on shows, some that I like, and some that I don’t. I like not feeling dependent on TV. It is a new, but nice feeling.

Day 30

I made it four weeks and only broke my resolve one time. Today I can start watching shows online through Netflix or through Hulu. Funny thing is—I don’t want to. I have no desire to catch up on what I have missed. I have been to the other side and I realize how nice it is to not waste hours on end watching shows online every day. There are still shows that I will try to catch online if I cannot see them on TV, but there are far fewer than before. Being away from TV has really allowed me to connect with life again. I spent more time cleaning, more time reading and more time doing homework. It was really nice for the four weeks it lasted.


Though it was at times difficult, I really enjoyed this project. I found out just how much time I spent watching TV that could be spent in so many other ways. I spent a lot more time on homework assignments and readings, even getting them done ahead of time. In return I felt very accomplished.

In a way I feel like I have reconnected with life and with friends. I have no desire to spend a nice Friday inside watching shows. Instead, I want to be outside running or reading on my porch. My TV use in general has gone down. Instead of planting myself in front of a Law and Order: SVU marathon, I watch an episode or two and then turn the TV off and work on something else. Even now as I type this I sit in silence, not with the TV on as background.

Another big change as a result of this project, among other things, is that I read before bed instead of putting on How I Met Your Mother. I fall asleep easier now even though I have to put up with my wandering thoughts that are no longer tuned out by the TV.

This project showed me that I am not a hopeless TV addict. By completing this voluntary “rehab” I have emerged a new person; one who is not dependent on TV. I think that TV could have been considered my “drug” before but I no longer feel that itch to check Hulu or that dependence on knowing what happens every week on every show.

I read an article called “Conan, Television, and the Hulu Effect” and I think the way the author describes the Hulu effect is dead on with my viewing habits. The author says that my generation, the younger generation, is less likely to spend time watching a show when it comes on TV and are more likely to watch it later on Hulu. Another aspect of this is that we choose to watch only clips of a show versus the whole thing because as a generation we are more “ADD.”

I think this definitely mirrors my previous mindset. However, doing this project slightly changed this because I can see the value of actually watching a show when it comes on TV. Especially when you are watching it with a friend.

Even so, I appreciate sites like Hulu and Netflix a lot more after this project because of the flexibility they allow. I cannot always catch my favorite show the one time it comes on during primetime. However, when I have some free time the next day, I can watch it on Hulu. Before this project, I would have said that I appreciated Hulu because it allowed me instant gratification, shows with less commercials and endless opportunities for mindless entertainment. Now, though, I appreciate it because it allows me more flexibility in my schedule.

My appreciation should not be translated as complete acceptance of this technology. I can still see the negative effects this technology can have, like addictive behavior. I will continue to use this technology, but with a newfound awareness of its benefits as well as its negative side effects.


"Conan, Television, and the Hulu Effect." Roger Visitacion's Blog: Life in the Fast Lane. 10 November 2009. Web. 20 April 2011.