Netflix and the adaptive sin of impatience

Close-up of eyes with impatient lookImpatience is a sin. When I stand at the Bank of America ATM, waiting and waiting and waiting for the contraption to digest a fistful of checks, steam starts rising from my scalp. As I inch along Route 95 because a lane is closed for repair, but there’s not a workman in sight, catecholamines spurt into my bloodstream. Impatience.  It’s a sin because it’s nasty, it nicks at the soul, and it does no good to anyone.

Netflix logoOr does it? Maybe it does some good. Maybe impatience is adaptive. In this Darwinian world the rule is, famously, adapt or die … or at least watch someone steal your lunch. Why am I thinking these terribly profound thoughts? Why, Netflix, of course. Netflix streaming, to be more precise. Though I am patient enough, or cheap enough, to choose free shipping and wait several days for my Amazon packages to arrive, when I subscribed to Netflix, I couldn’t bear the idea of waiting for DVDs when there was an alternative. Streaming. I point the clicker at my trusty Roku box and, seconds later, I’m watching millions of pixels doing their high definition dance on my 46-inch Samsung screen.

(More about the  ragpicker’s choice of videos you get with Netflix streaming, as opposed to Netflix DVDs, below. For now, the subject is still impatience.)

smart key for a carBecause we Americans will do almost anything to make our lives more convenient, impatience may be transforming into a virtue, at least for entrepreneurs. It takes an eternal seven seconds to reach into your pocket, haul out your car key, insert it into the door lock, twist, pull the door open, slide the key into the ignition and start the car. How tedious! So somebody invents a remote control to unlock the car. Then somebody raises the ante by inventing a “smart key” you can keep in your pocket. Every time you use it, it effectively lengthens your life by seven seconds. Wow!

"Doc Martin" Netflix coverThat’s what I love about Netflix streaming. It’s effortless. Not only are you spared a trip to the video store (remember them?), you don’t have to chart your viewing course a couple of days in advance. Spares wear and tear on executive functions of your brain. Though the instant watch list is dismal when it comes to semi-recent narrative films, there’s a bunch of good docs, like Page One, The Art of the Steal and Theater of War. When my sister-in-law mentions the Brit-com series Doc Martin,  after a few clicks on the remote, my wife and I become mildly addicted.

Frame from "Charlie bit my finger - again!"The adaptive sin of impatience has always pointed the way to online video’s future, and it will continue to do so. Impatience has led to shorter and shorter videos. The YouTube classic, “Charlie bit my finger – again!” viewed by over 423, 000,000 short-attention-span folks (like me), is just 56 seconds long. To sample the conventional wisdom on this subject, google How long should online videos be? and you’ll soon see that nobody advises clients to make long videos. The graph shows a curve as steep as a ski jump of  viewers dropping off after just a minute or so.

Netflix streaming illuminates the future of viewing, but Netflix itself may not be the future of viewing unless they get their act together … and soon. When I search their website for a narrative film I want to see, almost without exception the Netflix gremlins tell me that my film “is not available to watch instantly.” Oh yeah, I can watch it on DVD by clicking on a single button … and upping my monthly bill by $7.99. It’s incredibly annoying, and has caused countless Netflixters to abandon ship. DVDs were developed more than 15 years ago. Those disks still work pretty well, but they’ll soon be a legacy technology.

Impatience rules. I’ve heard that Being Elmo is a charming doc. Let’s see, do I want to check it out right away, or do I want to wait for the mail carrier to arrive a couple of days from now? Seems like a no-brainer. Let’s see how long it takes for the pleasure to arrive in my family room once I put Being Elmo on my Instant Queue. Here, click along with me:

As always, I welcome your comments.