We Americans seem to love our array of options. Just walk into any grocery store and count the variety of soup cans available every day of the week. We have become immune to our vast wealth in terms of soup. What if one day you were having a hankering for Campbell’s Chicken Noodle, and it was not on the shelf? You’d go to another grocery store, no doubt! What if on that same day, you found out that the soup you have loved all your life was no longer being offered as an option by the Campbell Soup Company? You’d have to switch to another, inferior brand if you wanted to continue eating chicken noodle soup from a can. This is the kind of tragedy that happened to me at Trader Joes. This always happens to me at Trader Joes. They discontinue carrying that thing I love to eat. No explanation. Just suddenly gone from their stores. “We no longer carry that item,” is their only reply to my entreaties. Option gone! I feel rebuffed. I want my options. This is America!
Sometimes the sheer number of options seems obscene. Take today’s tv show selections. My friend Gina and I were discussing the vast number of viewing options available these days. Like any gals of a certain age, we reminisced about the tv offerings of our younger years. Many people my age grew up with a television in their homes. The home entertainment selection process was simpler back in the day. We had three basic network channels plus whatever UHF channels our antenna could pick up. We later found ourselves falling in love with PBS and those high-brow offerings of the classics. At any given hour of the day, we had, at best, 7 shows to chose from. We did not suffer from such a limited number of options because The Beverly Hillbillies, Get Smart and the Munsters gave us plenty to laugh over. And, we never had to pay for anything beyond that massive piece of furniture which housed our beloved screen. Did your dad call it the idiot box?
Who knew where things would go from there. As tv sets grew smaller, the amount of claptrap on them grew larger. Cable, satellite, streaming! The evolution of watching has provided us with 24/7 options…so many options. My husband and I never had cable service until we moved to the mountains. Now we have something we pay lots of money for, which hooks up to a hole in the wall, which brings us a variety of channels–most of which we don’t watch. Then we have a Roku, which is a box which has a couple of mysterious connection points, that beams in rays of potential streaming services via the internet. I think. We pay for the internet, and the streaming channels for which we harbor the least amount of resentment. We are up to three.
For a while, we were confused about watching a tv show on one of our reliable historic networks and then also finding it on Hulu. Let’s clear this up. You may opt to watch Abbot Elementary at the time the network airs the show and then, if you want, you can watch it again streaming on Hulu at any time of the night or day you might be wanting to watch it. The best part about watching television these days is the ability to record a show while watching another one. I still have 147 episodes of Beat Bobby Flay to watch, but to be truthful, after the first 104 episodes, I noticed some were repeating and some were just monotonously the same. I’m too busy watching other shows to even stop and erase the episodes lodged in my recording device, which seems to be the tv itself.
One day, HBO began to appear on our lineup of regularly airing channels. If you have HBO, you will know that it’s not just one channel (#1802) on our dial. There’s about 30 or so more belonging to the HBO family, such as HBOwtf (#1812). There’s too much HBO programming to choose from, so HBO added a streaming service to our Roku-accessed lineup so that if we missed something on the regular channels, we could watch all of it, as many times as we wanted, 24 hours a day. This is the point where the sheer number of options to chose from has a deleterious effect on my brain. I don’t think humans are hardwired for infinite selections. I used to think entertainment represented the broadest scope of options possible in the modern age. Then I visited a popular semi-local fabric shop.
Present me with four patterns to opt from, and I can happily choose a bolt of material from which to make pillow cases. Present me with 1,240 patterns along with 26 textures and 47 colors and my IQ drops to drooling level. My friend Tee and I got in my car to drive to THE fabric shop to end all fabric shops. We met Gina there. My first question to Gina when we arrived was, “Are we still in North Carolina?” Long drive, huge store, high excitement. After perusing all of the possibilities for an hour, I still couldn’t decide. Never had I seen so many fabrics in one place. Even narrowing down the choices to a manageable selection seemed daunting. Closing my eyes and grabbing a bolt seemed like the best strategy if I did not want to hang out there for several days. So that’s pretty much what I did.
I left the store telling my friends I would have to come back when I had more time and money to spend there. I’m sure that was the store’s original design intention–smack ’em upside the head with so much to choose from that they feel multiple trips are in order if they want the feeling of satisfaction that no bolt was left unconsidered. Perhaps that’s the modern business model. Overwhelm the customer. Walk into any Lowe’s and count the number of lightbulbs for sale. You will be there a while. I am unfamiliar with the metamorphosis of lighting options. The standard lightbulb, long a mainstay in electrical illumination, has been usurped by such a variety of choices that Tee and I spent quite a lot of time one afternoon just trying to learn the differences when picking out two from the vast array for her new porch lights.
Simplicity is a thing of the past. There’s no money in simplicity. If every lighting fixture in your home requires a different light bulb, with its own unique attributes, you can’t just buy a box of multi-purpose bulbs to keep on a shelf in the basement for when replacement is needed. I can see the advantages to having a variety from which to choose. Soft light for the boudoir, blazing inferno for the sewing room, call-the-police laser blast for the motion detector lighting outside. I don’t have to like it. I can still resent those trips to the store that take up so much of my time just in the act of research and choosing, even if I like what I eventually bring home.
The world has become a bewildering morass of choosing from which we have little to no means of disentanglement. But I confess, I sometimes love the rituals of poking around with discernment. The Asian market down the street offers an entire aisle of noodles from around the world. I don’t mind taking a little time on a Tuesday morning investigating the nuances of size, shape and ingredients which constitute a Japanese soba or a Vietnamese rice vermicelli. I suppose we all have a capacity to endure a slew of choices if the choosing engages our senses and imaginations. Just thinking about trying some previously unknown foodstuff makes my mouth water with anticipation. Somewhere out there is a true lightbulb enthusiast just waiting for the bulb in their dining room light fixture to burn out with the same alacrity I experience when shopping at a farmers’ market. Just thinking about that makes me want to cook up a pot of soup. I gave up the ubiquitous can of chicken noodle decades ago, but homemade nourishment provides an endless selection of options as well.
Just pick one already!
Be sure to catch the option on the menu above for Quote of the Week!