I missed The Wire when it first came out. I don’t know what I was doing? Probably watching Buffy. In any case, I missed it – a fact that my friends who watched The Wire never let me forget. After all, there are few things you absolutely must experience in this life like The Wire. A transformative experience from all accounts. And I missed it.

Except, I didn’t. Not really.

The Wire is sitting in my Amazon Prime queue waiting patiently for me. It’s also sitting in my HBO Now queue. If The Wire ever came out on Netflix I’d probably add it there as well. I know I should watch it. I just haven’t got round to it yet.

One of the coolest features of media streaming services is the ability to personalise your experience. To browse the available titles and curate a library based on your personal taste. Every television show, movie, album, book, podcast you’ve ever wanted to consume can be reduced to a title on a list. A list of unplayed media.

The only problem is we’re living in a period of peak content. By that I mean there is more media out there waiting to be consumed than at any other point in history. Every week new TV shows, movies, books, albums, podcasts are foisted upon us. A lot of it, like The Wire, is considered unmissable.

When I open Netflix I’m confronted with a stark reminder of how limited my personal time is. Unless I was suddenly rendered jobless and cut ties with my friends and family there is no way humanly possible I could watch every title on my list. There aren’t enough hours in the day. The fact that I’m constantly adding to this list as new movies and shows are made available makes the task seem even more Sisyphean.

It’s not just Netflix – podcasts are automatically added to my iTunes unplayed list based on subscriptions. The other day I started scrolling through the list only to discover to my horror I had entire years of content waiting for me. Years and years of podcasts carefully selected to appeal to my particular interests.

I’m a completionist. There’s a stack of books waiting on my bedside table that I’m slowly making my way through. I won’t buy another book until I finish them all. If I like a musician, I’ll feel compelled to listen to every album in their back catalogue, no matter how inconsequential. I’ll spend months playing a video game until I have unlocked all the achievements. Seeing a percentage of uncompleted content drives me crazy.

And so I am haunted by lists.

In an effort to regain some control over my compulsive behaviour I started deleting podcasts from my iTunes queue. I got to a point where I had only a half dozen or so hours worth of content which seemed manageable. I was able to breathe more easily.
To my horror, the next day the queue had doubled in length as iTunes helpfully went and added a bunch of other titles from podcasts I’d previously subscribed to. I deleted these as well. Now, when I open iTunes I feel a slight flicker of anxiety about what I might find waiting for me.

I tried something similar with Netflix only to be confronted with a pop-up informing me there was a minimum number of titles required. Infuriated, I went through and added a bunch of TV shows and movies I have no intention of ever watching, rendering the list redundant. I was free. There were no titles waiting for me anymore. No must-see water-cooler cultural milestones, box office behemoths, cult classics, or comfort flicks massed together in one long daunting list.

Except for The Wire of course. I fully plan on watching that some day.

M.J.

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Header photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash