Someone asked me recently what I did over the weekend, and for a long and panicky moment, I had no idea.

Something had to have happened, surely. Vague, dreamlike memories floated up to me from the murky depths. There was a movie at some point, I think. Possibly Will Ferrell was in it, or maybe it was Jeremy Irons. (Have Will Ferrell and Jeremy Irons ever done any projects together?) I want to say there was a picnic that took place at one point, and for some reason I remember eating eggs. A lot of eggs. Way, way too many eggs.

It shouldn’t be this hard to remember.

And yet this kind of thing happens all the time, and not just to me. It used to be that weekends were the time to go out and have memorable experiences, stories you could share with your coworkers as you settled behind your desk for another week of work. You went to plays. You embarked on a hike and took goofy pictures below a stone monument depicting Civil War soldiers with frilly hair. You drank too much at a bridal shower and passed out face-first in a lump of cake.

Now, many of us spend weekends in a kind of fugue state, and it’s not hard to figure out why. We stayed in the whole time. Staying in is the new going out.

Being a sloth-like hermit has gotten pretty easy, considering there’s no pressing need to leave the house anymore. If I’m in the mood for a movie, I can either pay 15 bucks to sit in a theater next to a flatulent man who hasn’t showered since D-Day, or I can stream something at home on a TV the size of a school bus windshield. If I need tube socks and a beard trimmer, I can stand in line at Walmart until the decay of Western civilization, or I can make a few clicks on the laptop and have them delivered to my door. If I need fresh air and sunshine, there’s probably an app for that. I’d ask a neighbor or something, but that would entail walking outside.

New terms have entered into the lexicon that testify to our growing staying-in addiction. “Netflix n’ chill” is a popular one; it’s basically slang for settling in front of the television with a choice libation and watching streaming movies or shows, an activity that was once simply known as “watching TV.” “Binge watch” is a term you’ve probably heard. Binge-watching is Netflix ’n’ chill on steroids – you basically just pick a show and fill the ensuing hours consuming episode after episode, blowing through series like a pastry chef blows through cake mix. That’s when you know you’ve hit rock bottom. It isn’t drug use or overeating that indicates a deep spiral. It’s watching so many episodes of “The X-Files” that you know how many moles are on David Duchovny’s neck. (Two, if you’re curious.)

And, of course, there’s the term coined myself: “Couch walk.” It’s when you’ve been sitting on the sofa so long that when you finally get up to make for the bathroom, you walk with the kind of stiff hunch usually seen in people who have survived major traffic accidents.

Humanity doesn’t stand a chance.

There are advantages to this self-imposed isolation, of course. It’s easy. It’s comfortable and convenient. Tellingly, it’s also cheap; subscription to a streaming service typically costs $10 to $15 per month, depending on how many bells and whistles are attached, and you get unlimited, on-demand viewing in return. Compare that to the typical outing at your local cineplex: 15 bucks for a single ticket to a single movie, seats so sticky they could affix a tire to the axle of a tractor trailer, and concession prices high enough to drive a family of four into bankruptcy. When the choice is between eating Milk Duds and keeping your house, it’s understandable that someone would choose creature comforts over gummed-up floors and funeral home lighting. And that’s just the cinema. Seeing a play can be even more expensive, although at least a play offers the possibility that something weird might happen – an actor forgetting his lines, or a prop smacking someone in the face. Better value, but still pricey.

The ultimate price we pay for this convenience, though, is in the quality of the memories that we’re building. In aggregate, memories are the story of a life. In the 1970s, my father quit his job, packed a few essentials into a broken-down Scooby-Doo van with a busted heating system, and drove from Maine to California and back – no agenda, no plan, just the open road. He’s fond of regaling me with stories from this time. He should be. He left himself exposed, a raw nerve twitching in the fickle winds of the real world, and that’s oftentimes how the best experiences happen. You step outside, you hope for the best, and when the best actually happens, you feel like you’re truly living. Because you are.

That’s worth more than a monthly subscription, but it happens all too rarely.

Which is why, in a break from my peers, I’m resisting society’s ever-increasing reliance on gadgets to deliver at-home entertainment. I Netflix ’n’ chill. I’ve done the couch walk more than once in my life. But whenever I’m on the cusp of that fugue state, I walk outside, feel the breeze on my skin, and start walking. In 10 years, who knows? I may be the only schmuck out there on the road, galloping along in my battered hiking sneaks, who’s taking in the genuine sounds and smells of earthly life.

If I encounter someone walking in the opposite direction, we’ll probably nod to each other knowingly. Contained in that nod will be a singular thought: “This is where life is.”

Jeff Lagasse is an editor at a Portland media company that’s swarming with way too many digital screens. When he finally caves and sits in front of his laptop, he may get around to reading the email you send him at [email protected]


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