In a world drowning in content, is it our fault we can't always keep up with that spicy new novel, or scandalous TV series finale? And does it matter? Cherie Howie asks if it's time to make peace with the fact we're going to die having missed almost everything.
Three. That's how many shots a TV show has to win over Jaquie Brown and hubby Guy Denniston, or it's dispatched back to oblivion in the cloud.
Brown, first spotted on our screens in 2000 before adding stints as a reporter on Campbell Live, presenter for C4 Music and co-creator and star of award-winning sitcom The Jaquie Brown Diaries to her resume, is likely best recognised these days in her guest host seat on Three's The Project.
But most of her work now takes place off-camera, including as a voice-over artist in New Zealand and as a screenwriter with two feature films being made in the US next year.
She knows all too well the slog of creating something new, so the three-episode rule feels not only right, but fair.
"I listen to my friends' point of view and reviews I've seen about shows to tell me whether to bother, but I like to give everything a shot, because I know how hard it is to make a TV show.
"I know the work that would've gone into it, so I never really go, 'Oh, that sucks, blergh'. I just go, 'Oh well, that wasn't for me. Never mind'."
Even for a self-described TV addict like Brown, a strict limit on how long she'll stick with a new show is a tool of necessity in a world that's never had its leisure time so well catered – and competed – for.
Brown has three streaming services and 14 shows chalked on to her blackboard watch-list, a mixture of dramas and palate-cleaning comedies.
"If they haven't hooked us in three episodes, then we have to bow out," says the mum-of-two.
"There's not enough hours in the day and days in the year to push through on a show that just isn't grabbing you."
And it's not just streamed TV, now nearly two decades into an era of prestige offerings, dubbed by some the latest Golden Age of Television.
We should be so lucky.
Movies, documentaries, Facebook's user-targeted feeds, Instagram's stories and reels, and TikTok's never-ending churn of dance, pranks, stunts and jokes combine to keep our eyeballs fixed to screens longer than many of us could've dreamed as kids growing up with a handful of TV channels, the odd trip to the flicks and whatever the local library had to offer.
Slam them shut and it's no better.
Streaming music services such as Spotify have conquered our ears with their tens of millions of tracks only a tap away, radio's reach remains unwavering after a century on air, and an ever-growing digital library of audiobooks and podcasts loom ready to drain the hours from our days.
And should we opt for the quiet sanctuary of the written word, well, there's rather a long list of that to capture our attention, too.
Even newsletters joined with the best of intentions wind up just more text to wade through, offering reading, watching and listening recommendations we have no hope of fulfilling.
Many among us certainly give it a good push, impervious to the unavoidable truth that it's not the hours in the day or the days in the year that'll stop us seeing most of the culture – high and low – on offer yesterday, today and tomorrow. It's the years in our lives.
"Statistically speaking", wrote NPR pop culture correspondent Linda Holmes, after calculating in 2011 a person could read more than 6500 books in their lifetime if they maintained a "brisk pace" of two books a week from age15 to 80, "you will die having missed almost everything."
And if you do yourself the favour aged 15 of limiting your reading list to the past 250 years, so by age 80 you're only tackling 315 years' worth of books, you're still left with time to read only 20 books from each year, Holmes says.
"You have to cover history, philosophy, essays, diaries, science, religion, science fiction, westerns, political theory … I hope you weren't planning to go out much."
Probably not, but that might be a good thing since modern conversations, in real life and online, are more likely to be about what we're seeing on screen than on the page.
Never got around to watching Tiger King, released by Netflix as much of the world – including New Zealand – went into those first, discombobulating Covid-19 lockdowns in March 2020?
The documentary sensation's first season, with its outrageous characters and wild plot twists, linked millions worldwide at a time many had found themselves untethered from the simple certainties of normal life.
But while Nielsen figures showed more than 34 million viewers tuned into the series within 10 days of its release, a number that almost doubled to 64m three weeks later, there's close to 8 billion of us on the planet.
So, if the question #TeamJoe or #TeamCarole leaves you blank-faced, don't fret – you're among friends.
In those dark early lockdown days, when we were figuring out the kitchen table classroom and the best time to avoid queues at the supermarket, the zeitgeist wasn't captured by a candid view of a troubled exotic animal collecting subculture on the other side of the Pacific.
Because the zeitgeist – popular ideas and beliefs that capture the defining mood of a moment in time – no longer exists, University of Auckland communications lecturer Dr Ethan Plaut says.
"There is no zeitgeist anymore. There are fragmented, multiple, overlapping conflicting spirits of the times."
If you're part of a small community of people that cares deeply about something in particular, then it makes sense to lean into it completely because it's "part of the richness of your social life".
But themes explored on screen and off aren't exclusive to one particular movie, TV series or book anyway, and experiencing them through different outlets shouldn't stop discussion, Plaut says.
"How much television isn't about love and tragedy and embarrassment and what the future might or might look like, and 'Oh my God, 500 years ago people had the same problems I do'?
"The number of things that tie our stories together is as much as the things that separate them, and I think being able to compare different things you're reading and watching with someone else, and how you're finding meaning in those things – you don't need to be watching the same shows to be able to talk to someone about that.
"And hopefully those conversations circle back to the things in your own life that make you relate to [a show], or the things in your own life that maybe you're trying to escape by watching the Tiger King."
Plaut, an expert on digital media, isn't much of a TV watcher himself. He hasn't seen Tiger King.
His entertainment Achilles heel is social media "because it's so well designed to hold your attention indefinitely".
"If I'm trying to focus, or get some intellectual work done, and I find myself looking at a social [media] platform I have to be aware I could lose 45 minutes if I'm not careful."
But while we have more ways to distract ourselves than ever, and their ability to travel with us in our pockets made for a "special and peculiar problem", people have been grumbling about media overload – and learning to live with it – for half a millennia, Plaut says.
"In the 16th and 17th century people were complaining there were too many books to read, that the printing press was a plague on intellectual life – because it was just so overwhelming."
But they learned to cope, and that knowledge still held.
"People realised a long time ago that if you want to write poetry, for example, you can't wait until you've read the canon of poetry, or else you'll never start."
In fact, the opposite – boredom – is healthy and helpful, the 43-year-old says.
"I think being really selective about what voices you want to invite into your life and making sure you carve out time where you're just listening to yourself, or the birds … is a very creative and healthy space. "These are all important things that weigh against this contrary instinct to try to keep up with everything all the time. There is no keeping up with everything all the time."
Tony Laulu certainly gave it a good go.
In the worst years of his social-media addiction, the founder of Digital Discipline – which helps people develop healthier digital habits – was spending up to seven hours online a day, taking his phone everywhere and neglecting his responsibilities as a dad and husband.
"If I was walking from one room to another, I'd be checking my phone. I'd take it to the bathroom, I'd check it while I was driving, at a funeral, at a wedding, even just walking from the house to the car.
"Any living moment I was trying to distract myself from the realities of life."
Now his spare time is taken up with exercise, supporting his kids' sport, upskilling for his business and, occasionally, posting on social media or watching a movie.
His advice for those on the content consumption hamster wheel is to be aware of why they're uploading that dinner photo or watching that TV show, and make sure it's for positive reasons – to share a new restaurant find, or unwind after a long day, rather than a validation hunt to boost self-esteem or a mind-numbing exercise to avoid problems.
"For me it's a lot of mindfulness and understanding, 'Why am I on this?'"
And while you might fear you're missing out, chances are you're not.
Speaking to The Mike Hosking Breakfast in July, prolific and multi award-winning stage and screen actor John Lithgow agreed with the host that while the growth of streaming services might have no limits, talent does.
"There are all these great big projects that are not all that good, and I shouldn't say such things, but it's true", The Crown actor told Hosking.
"There is a finite number of really great writers, great film-makers, great actors and there are all these services, and they just need product. You just have to keep feeding the furnace."