Sometimes—and this is one of those of situations where “sometimes” is wildly specific in its conditions and terms—the best thing to do on Netflix is to scroll through the title pages and never click anything. It’s soothing, somehow; therapeutic, even; intoxicating, almost.
Probably the easiest (or quickest) (or most instinctive) comparison to make here would be to liken it to window shopping. But that’s wrong. It’s not like window shopping at all. With window shopping, more often than not, you’re looking at a thing (or multiple things) that you would never buy, or could never buy. You look into a window and say, “Whoa. So that’s what a $40,000 watch looks like?” And then you walk away, knowing that never in your life will there be a moment when it’s sitting on your wrist as you walk through an exclusive party hoping somebody attractive notices it.
The Netflix thing is on the other end of the spectrum. Everything is available to you on Netflix. It’s all right there. It’s literally all right there. All you have to do is tap your screen or click your mouse and it’s yours. Choosing not to do that—choosing instead to never click anything—is the opposite of window shopping. When my editor Donnie Kwak and I were emailing about all of this recently, he mentioned how, when we were younger, people could walk into a Blockbuster and then meander around, staring at the backs of the VHS boxes. That, I think, is the closest comparison. And it’s probably still not even that close.
One of my sons is 5 years old, which is an interesting age because he is now fully aware that there is a world that exists outside of his direct of line of sight. Recently, while putting him to sleep—this consists of laying in the bed with him for several minutes with the lights off and ad-libbing a story to him that, by request and for reasons that we’ve not yet sussed out, is typically about some sort of animal that farts far too much—he asked me what I was going to do after I left his room.
I said that I was going to be working on something. He asked if I was going to be writing.
My favorite thing about our relationship is that he can remember my real name only after being given several hints (stuff like, “It rhymes with …”), but he knows without even thinking about it that I am “a writer who writes things on a computer.”
Here’s a silly aside: When he was 4 years old, he asked me what my real name was and, just playing around with him, I told him it was “LeBron.” It was a quick and toothless exchange, and I forgot about it almost as quickly as it happened. Two months later, a parent of one of his friends asked him if he knew my name and my wife’s name (because that’s the kind of passive-aggressive shit that parents of young children often do when they’re trying to show everyone how smart their own kid is). He said yes, and then he said, “My mom’s name is Larami Serrano, and my dad’s name is LeBron Serrano.” He legit lived eight weeks of his life thinking that my name was LeBron Serrano, which is 95 percent hilarious and 5 percent sad.
At any rate, he asked if I was going to be writing something. I said yes, that I was going to be writing about Netflix. He paused for a second while the words traveled from my mouth and toward his ears and then into his ears and then, finally, into his spongy brain. He stared forward for a second or two, then he said, “That’s a lot of movies you’re going to have to write about, Daddy.”
Netflix has so thoroughly and powerfully permeated American (and possibly global) culture that 5-year-olds are capable of talking about it in passing.
Also: He calls it “Neck Flix,” which is the cutest thing.
The only time when scrolling through Netflix and not clicking on anything is enjoyable is late at night. You have to be in bed. And the orientation lock on your phone has to be turned on. And you have to be holding it parallel to the bed (and, thus, parallel to your body). And it has to be 6 inches from your face, beaming light and gamma rays straight into your eyeballs, from a proximity to your skull that will almost certainly cause long-term damage. Also, you have to have the volume off, lest you accidentally go more than a few seconds without thumbing away a list of options and a trailer for a comedy special comes on and your whole vibe is ruined totally, entirely, absolutely, unquestionably.
That’s when I do it, and how I do it. It’s almost an Every Night occurrence now. It helps slow my brain down some while also tiring out my eyes. I just flick my thumb back and forth or up and down, cycling through things that are Popular on Netflix and things that are Continue Watching for Shea Serrano and things that are Trending Now and things that are NETFLIX ORIGINALS and things that are Because You Watched Sons of Anarchy and things that are Award-Winning Movies and things that are New Releases and Documentaries and Comedies and TV Dramas Featuring a Strong Female Lead and Raunchy Comedies and Because You Watched No Country for Old Men—over and over, into eternity and through forever and past the oblivion and back to Popular on Netflix.
Occasionally reading a plot summary or pretending to be interested that Nic Cage had a weird role in a movie I’ve never seen or would ever watch for more than 20 seconds.
But never clicking.
Until my eyelids get so heavy that I’m certain they’re going pull me clean off the bed as they thud down onto the floor.
It’s different than scrolling through, say, Twitter or Instagram or Facebook, because being on those things requires brain power and almost always demands your active participation.
Not the Netflix thing, though.
You can just be there.
You can just be.
And most essentially: You can just be while still being online.
I’m sure all of this has something to do with how the impossible-to-escape-ness of the internet has reprogrammed all of our brains so that now we have to pump them full of an endless stream of information and images for every single second of being awake. But I’m also sure there’s no space or time or room to talk about any of that here. Because what’s even the point, because can you even imagine lying in bed for five minutes with no phone and trying to fall asleep naturally?
It sounds like torture.
It sounds like impossibly tortuous torture.
It sounds like impossibly tortuous impossible torture.
Or, I don’t know.
I’m just trying to get some fucking sleep.