How do you maximize the pleasure of watching a Netflix series?

In 2006 Tyler Cowen asked how to go through his stock of Battlestar Galactica DVDs. The general question is how to maximize the pleasure of watching many hours of a series. Do you do it all in one shot, or find some means of spreading them out?

It’s not just old DVDs of The Wire or The Sopranos. You can similarly ask how best to consume House of Cards of Netflix. There are lots of things to maximize for, e.g. the pleasures of anticipation, the indulgence of watching everything in one shot, or episode engagement.

My favorite suggestions are:

Have a strict rule, such as one a day.

Have a stranger impose a rationing pattern.  Sometimes we call this stranger the Science Fiction Channel.

Refuse to watch the last episode, in an attempt to deny your mortality.

Watch them at an increasing rate.

The last suggestion is especially interesting.

Hirschman’s Hiding Hand

Here’s a little story from Hirschman’s biography. It’s a perfect illustration of his idea that one should not be fixated by potential challenges.

One evening he went to a dinner party in Santiago. Wishing to catch up with Véliz, who’d recently returned to Chile, Hirschman asked his hosts for Véliz’s phone number. The host didn’t have it and dismissed the telephone book as a list of numbers for people who had died or left the country. Everyone laughed and enjoyed the meal. The next morning, in his hotel, Hirschman spied the phone directory in his room. Curious, he looked up Véliz, dialed the number, and quickly found the voice of his friend at the other end of the line.


On the same theme, here’s an excerpt from Malcolm Gladwell’s review of the biography:

“The Principle of the Hiding Hand,” one of Hirschman’s many memorable essays, drew on an account of the Troy-Greenfield “folly,” and then presented an even more elaborate series of paradoxes. Hirschman had studied the enormous Karnaphuli Paper Mills, in what was then East Pakistan. The mill was built to exploit the vast bamboo forests of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. But not long after the mill came online the bamboo unexpectedly flowered and then died, a phenomenon now known to recur every fifty years or so. Dead bamboo was useless for pulping; it fell apart as it was floated down the river. Because of ignorance and bad planning, a new, multimillion-dollar industrial plant was suddenly without the raw material it needed to function.

But what impressed Hirschman was the response to the crisis. The mill’s operators quickly found ways to bring in bamboo from villages throughout East Pakistan, building a new supply chain using the country’s many waterways. They started a research program to find faster-growing species of bamboo to replace the dead forests, and planted an experimental tract. They found other kinds of lumber that worked just as well. The result was that the plant was blessed with a far more diversified base of raw materials than had ever been imagined. If bad planning hadn’t led to the crisis at the Karnaphuli plant, the mill’s operators would never have been forced to be creative. And the plant would not have been nearly as valuable as it became.

The Unwinding, by George Packer

The Unwinding is a book by New Yorker staff writer George Packer, who profiles various American lives over decades.

Peter Thiel was one of subjects. Here are some of the interesting parts about Thiel:

In a philosophy class his sophomore year, Mind, Matter, and Meaning, Thiel met another brilliant student, named Reid Hoffman, who was far to the left of him. They stayed up late arguing about things like the nature of property rights (this was how Thiel made friends, at Stanford and all his life). Hoffman said property was a social construct, it didn’t exist without society, while Thiel quoted Margaret Thatcher: “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women.”

In 1992, Thiel’s friend and fellow law student Keith Rabois decided to test the limits of free speech on campus by standing outside the residence of an instructor and shouting, “Faggot! Faggot! Hope you die of AIDS!” The furious reaction to this provocation eventually drove Rabois out of Stanford.

After seven years at Stanford, Thiel left for a clerkship in Atlanta (he had interviews at the Supreme Court with Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy but wasn’t hired – the first setback of his life, and a traumatic one).

After seven months at the law firm, he quit and went to work as a derivatives trader – currency options – at Credit Suisse. It was mathematically challenging, and he lasted longer on Wall Street than at the law firm, but not by much. There was the same problem as at Sullivan & Cromwell: he was competing feverishly with his coworkers, and with little conviction in the socially designated stakes.

He wanted, he said, “to build constructive non-competitive relationships with people. I didn’t want to work with frenemies, I wanted to work with friends. In Silicon Valley it seemed possible, because there was no sort of internal structure where people were competing for diminishing resources.”

(Thiel and Levchin) began to spend time together, getting to know each other by trading puzzle challenges, mostly math puzzles. How many digits did the number 125^100 have? (Two hundred ten.) One of Thiel’s puzzles involved a hypothetical table in the shape of a circle: In a game in which two players took turns placing a penny anywhere on the table without overlapping the others, with the winner the last one to put down a penny that didn’t hang over the edge of the table, what would be the best strategy for winning? And did you want to go first or second? It took Levchin fifteen minutes to figure it out – the key was that the best strategy depended on disrupting the other player’s strategy.

Zuckerberg matter-of-factly described Thefacebook’s dramatic growth while making no effort to impress Thiel, and Thiel took that as a mark of seriousness.

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