Entertainment

What to do about screen snooping — whether you're the victim or the culprit

A new Netflix survey of Canadians who watch TV in public found 45 per cent have seen someone peeking at their screen. So, what's the proper etiquette?

You’re just trying to catch up on Outlander while commuting — how could you know that one of the show’s sex scenes runs for nearly 25 minutes?

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You’re just trying to catch up on Outlander while commuting — how could you know that one of the show’s sex scenes runs for nearly 25 minutes?

Call it the binge-watcher’s dilemma.

You’re just trying to pass your flight, or commute, or wait in line at the bank in peace while catching up on Outlander.

How could you know that episode six of season three has a sex scene that runs for nearly 25 minutes?

It just goes on and on. You have to decide whether to act chill and wait it out, snap your laptop closed and make yourself look guilty, or glance around to assess how many people have caught you in your shame.

Another version of this scenario is the bane of doctors and nude photographers everywhere: You open an email with a graphic image or video attached before you realize what's going on. God forbid, you don't have headphones attached, and the people around you get an X-rated audio-visual show. 

Netflix has actually coined a number of terms to describe this scourge of the modern age: “screen snooping” for peeking at sensitive content over someone’s shoulder, “show shame” for the embarrassment you feel at being caught watching something explicit or dumb, and “backstage bingeing” for simply trying to watch TV on someone else’s screen (it’s especially delightful if subtitles are on).

A new internal Netflix survey of 1,608 Canadians who say they watch TV in public found 45 per cent have seen someone peeking at their screen and 20 per cent have experienced the “show shame” of being caught watching something saucy around others. They dealt with it by turning off the show (21 per cent), covering the screen (17 per cent), checking if anyone noticed (34 per cent) or pretending nothing happened and continuing to watch (34 per cent).

Yining Su, a 28-year-old Canadian financial data worker living in London, England, can confirm screen snooping is a real problem.

“One time my boss caught me looking at an email from a museum about a David Hockney exhibition, and it was a painting of a nude male from behind,” she said.

“Also one time, I was listening to a podcast which mentioned Ben Affleck’s full frontal nudity in Gone Girl. And I could not remember that, despite having seen the movie. So I Googled something like, ‘Ben Affleck Gone Girl penis’ and then, later in the day, opened the browser on my phone in front of a friend who immediately noticed."

She had pulled up a post on Gawker that depicted a close-up, slo-mo clip of that exact moment in the movie.

The guy she was with was cool about it — just bemused at how his friend could possibly not remember something so very memorable. But it was embarrassing nonetheless.

So: What should you do if this happens to you? We asked someone who is truly qualified to answer this question, Metro’s very own urban etiquette columnist Ellen Vanstone.

Here's her advice: “Minimize the screen, or close it and view it another time in private. Even if it doesn't offend me, it's not fair for innocent passers-by or their children to be ambushed by images that might dismay or offend." She added the same rule should apply to all kinds of graphic content, be it violence, medical stuff or images of dead bodies on the news.

And if you’re the one who has glimpsed something naughty?

“That's easy,” Vanstone said. “If you like what you see, feel free to keep watching. As long as the person's screen is accessible to strangers’ eyeballs, they can have no expectation of privacy. If you don't like what you see, avert your gaze, and mind your own business.”

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