If there's one thing people really hate, it's spoilers, the prematurely revealed plot details that ruin a book, movie, TV show or video game for its future audience.
Spoilers used to be pretty easy to dodge. You just had to avoid making friends with thoughtless people and skip reviews until you'd had a chance to watch, read or play the content in question.
With the explosive growth of social networks and their constantly updated newsfeeds, however, staying in the dark has become a lot trickier.
According to the Pew Research Center, 78 percent to 89 percent of 18- to 49-year-olds are social-media users. That means that eight in 10 of Hollywood's mythical "target demographic"-- 18- to 34-year-olds -- share their every thought and opinion on social networks.
Expecting that hyperactive of a forum to remain spoiler-free is like expecting E. coli to steer clear of a piece of raw chicken.
In the weeks leading up to the series finale of "Breaking Bad" on Sept. 29, many of my friends were skittish about checking Facebook because they were a few episodes behind and didn't want to risk someone ruining it for them. I heard similar grumblings after the release of the last Harry Potter novel and when "Game of Thrones" was last airing.
"If they love the show, why don't they buy episodes online or watch them when they air," some of you probably are asking.
Because they might not be able to afford cable, or they might find it maddening to wait a week between episodes. According to a study released Sept. 18 by Nielsen, 88 percent of Netflix viewers and 70 percent of Hulu Plus subscribers "binge watch" entire seasons back-to-back. That shouldn't mean fans of a show have to unplug from their friend network until they catch up.
Obviously, spoilers should have a statute of limitations, but it should be reasonable, i.e. not the next day or week. Typically, I wait at least six months for games and books or until a show or movie comes out on home media before discussing it in detail on my account.
Some may think that's too long, some not long enough. The point is: I wait.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't gather around the water cooler to discuss your favorite shows. If you do so, though, be gracious and make sure the person you're talking to is caught up. If you're online, preface public posts about specific plot details with a clear warning, such as "[spoiler alert]."
Not to give anything away, but you'll be much better liked if you do.
Contact Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...