My life has become rather interesting of late. I’m the younger employee of an older man who just quit his stable job and is slowly losing his mind. I think that’s why he’s started to express romantic interest in me, but I don’t really care. It’s nice to be within six feet of another human being. I just ended a several year affair with a married woman after another taught me that there’s more to life than my small town and my loving, dysfunctional family. I think I’m going to take a road trip with my genetic anomaly of a younger brother. Did I mention I’m an obstetrician? I just found out I’m not biologically related to the man who raised me.
Before the apocalypse, I lived in a world where everyone was old and ugly and hated each other. It’s a real place called Haines, Alaska, a town of 2,000 conspiracy theorists. Even the most banal topics like the library have two sides, diametrically opposed, each convinced the other has a secret plot to gain supremacy dating back a decade, at least.
On Netflix, everyone is young and beautiful and only some people hate each other. How could you not want to be a part of a world like that? A utopia.
My life now revolves around use of my phone. I don’t believe in charging it at night. It needs sleep just like I do, but I can’t afford to have it run out of battery during the day. My only recourse is to drag it around by its umbilical cord, our umbilical cord, a 25-ft electric blue extension cord connecting the charger to the wall. It slithers after us as we move from room to room.
My real-world mother, who lives far away, worries I’m lonely, starved for social interaction. What she doesn’t realize is that in Netflix Utopia, you are never alone.
I’m on day seven of mandatory quarantine, but I have an active social life. Sam Seaborn, Jerry Maguire, Gilbert Grape, Nina Proudman. The list goes on. I flit from one group interaction to the next, season after season. Sometimes I wish I could have a moment just to myself in this whirlwind of a social calendar, but if I were left alone with my thoughts, I’m not sure we’d get along.
The profundity of the Netflix ocean is immense, infinite, all-consuming, like a landscape reflected in a puddle. The algorithm only ever recommends you watch the same 50 movies and TV shows. Of those, you only ever consider watching about half. Of those, you’ve already seen an ever growing number. Mathematically, at some point you should run out of material to watch, and yet, by steadily lowering your standards, you approach zero, but you never reach it.
And then there are the limbo titles. How many movies make up the detritus at the bottom, the films never asked to the prom, never deemed worthy by the algorithmic gods? If a lost viewer were to trip down the Netflix rabbit hole and accidentally click on one of these not-meant-for-human-consumption movies, would there be anything to play? Or would the viewer be greeted with an empty screen, a shell, an image used to build out the impression of a larger space that never existed, like the backdrop of an old Hollywood movie?
In Netflix Utopia, the non-essentials melt away. You discover the things that cannot be reduced to virtual echoes of their former selves. Virtually nothing in this virtual utopia.
Today, I took a virtual hike in my backyard, staring up at the mountains as I did lunges. Real sweat poured down my face. To be admitted to Netflix Utopia, I will need to drop the pounds I’ve put on through inactivity these past few weeks. All the good, important people in Netflix Utopia are skinny. Tom Cruise has abs like Jesus.
In Netflix Utopia, when beautiful people say dumb things, it sounds smart. You had me at “hello.” Yippee Ki Yay. And everyone is beautiful, frozen at the zenith of their career, after the veneers but before age started to soften their jawline.
You can learn a lot from these virtual friends. How to treat a woman right. How to be a woman being treated right. The internal struggle between doing what is right and what is politically expedient that a president faces each and every day of his career. The times when it’s appropriate to get drunk, go over to your much younger employee’s house and make out with them. The rare times when it’s not.
In Netflix Utopia, every child receives an iPad at birth. It’s called “machine learning.” Just a few hours of Netflix a day, and anyone can learn how to be a full-fledged member of the human race. Just a few hours of Netflix a day, and you start to wonder why you ever bothered living in the real world.
One month into quarantine, the average American was watching eight hours worth of movies and television a day. I was one of them. And so, I would guess, were many of you. What happens when, as a nation, we’re spending 2.6 billion hours a day streaming online content? What happens when TV becomes your best friend, your family, your lover and your more than full-time job? Life is objectively more exciting, funny and attractive–as long as you’re content to be a viewer, rather than a participant; as long as you don’t worry about the effect it’s having on your brain; as long as you’re able to overlook the tiny, insignificant detail that none of it is real. If that’s all cool with you, then quarantine is basically a utopia. Welcome.