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Last week I got one of those studies in my inbox that tells you the obvious. A lot of people aren’t going to movie theaters.

But one of the reasons made me stop and think.

“If you see a movie you don’t like you basically wasted that money,” one of the 100 subjects in the iModerate study said. “If you watch TV shows at home and don’t enjoy (a) program you can just find a new one.”

A lot of that is obvious, too. Services like Netflix and Amazon offer so much streaming content, they’ve changed everything about how we pick what to watch.

It’s smart to click through videos until you find something you’ll love, and it feels inexcusable to spend time and money on anything you won’t.

There’s a simple reason for this: Expectations shift when we feel we can make more informed choices. And there are so many reviews, ratings and recommendations out there that getting stuck watching something unsatisfying seems not only tough, but lazy.

This is how I browse Netflix now — ready to work. Not leaned back, like I’m channel surfing, but leaned in, like my overall enjoyment depends not just on what I choose to watch, but on how quickly I choose to watch it.

Efficiency, it turns out, is not just for jobs.


Of course, taste is tricky and we screw it up. I can’t tell you how many great sounding Netflix documentaries I’ve quit after 10 minutes in disgust.

And the night I got pulled in to these two hours of awful thanks to an inexplicably high Rotten Tomatoes rating and the recommendation of a friend who watched with us, preventing any escape, is not something I’d like to repeat.

There’s a lesson there, I think. In the age of small screens, YouTube and endless selection, entertainment information works for individuals far better than for crowds. In other words, watching with friends is a liability. Hitch your entertainment choices to anyone else and your risk of not liking the result goes way, way up.

So back to that movie survey. The respondent nailed it: Seeing a movie you hate at the theater is the biggest entertainment fail of all, especially when you spend time not only driving and parking and paying, but researching.

Two weeks ago my husband and I saw the latest Scarlett Johansson flick, “Lucy.” We’d watched trailers, read reviews and talked it over for a good 20 minutes. Though neither or us were sure we’d like it, it was as close to a consensus on what were going to do that night — our weekly date night — as we were going to get.

I put up with the movie’s plot holes and bad science. The popcorn hit the spot, at least. Jason, on the other hand, called “Lucy” one of the worst movies he’d seen in his life. He drove us home defeated, regret ruining the whole evening, and I made a mental note to never accept this level of uncertainty with a movie at the theater again.

We know we’ll love it, or we’re not going. And that’s a wrap.

This is a small social change, but a heavy one. A whole society shifting from “Let’s see how we like it” to “We already know we will.”

What do we give up in the process? The same thing we lose in other parts of our digitally accelerated culture: time spent with the unfamiliar and the uncertain.

“The elevation of every individual’s inarguable likes and dislikes over formal critical discourse, the unassailable ascendancy of the fan, has made children of us all,” critic A.O. Scott wrote in a mind-bending essay this month.

Do I think that’s good or bad? I don’t know. I need to read more reviews.

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