‘I’ ON CULTURE
The world has gotten so complex that almost nothing is simple. I now have four remote controls for the big television in my living room: one for the television itself, one for the cable box, one for the sound system, and one, now seldom used, that can play DVDs.
When I was a kid, I walked to the TV, turned it on and changed channels by dial because there were so few. Now we have hundreds of channels, all sorts of choices, almost too many to locate and generally very little worthwhile watching. And I always grab the wrong remote control!
It gets worse when trying to get food. When I was a teacher, I used to stop at a place a block from my school. The sign over the counter demanded everyone have money ready to keep the line going. One guy cut bagels and prepared them with cream cheese. There were two types of bagels and one type of cream cheese. He did them a few ahead of your place in line since he knew about how many would be used. A second guy poured out cups of coffee in two groups, regular and decaf. We could walk to the counter ask for a salt bagel and regular with sugar, then pay the cashier. (Amounts were usually worked out so you usually paid just a dollar in the early days. Then a buck and a half. Then two dollars). I could be in and out really fast since it took not much more than a minute to get everything.
Now people go to Starbucks or a similar place. They wait on line a long time since few people just want coffee. Now it can be, “Let me have a skinny venti latte with a double shot of vanilla espresso.” And we should not forget the whipped cream on top. Each drink becomes a kind of masterpiece, one of a kind. There are so many different choices that nothing can be done in advance, not helped by the need to steam the milk. At five minutes a production, it is not surprising that customers have to wait around to be called. Yes, we are getting more choices, but service is slowed considerably.
We have the same kind of problem at movie theaters. We used to have two prices: one for kids, one for adults, and they were generally very simple. We also had one movie at a time playing. Now we have theaters with a dozen or more smaller showrooms, and instead of simply taking cash, we have credit and debit cards, checks, special coupons, etc. We also have extra charges for 3D and for some mishmash that no one understands where they can hit you up for more cash, even though no one is sure what has been added to the experience. Add to that the simple fact that many people wait until the tickets are ready before taking out their means of payment, and that some people want to chat with the ticket seller about all of the films. So, we wait. Another minor problem, of course, is that the theaters make little money from ticket sales (the movie companies generally take three-quarters of receipts and sometimes more when there are blockbusters). The management does not care about backups on lines. That’s what they have a half hour of previews for.
And the candy stands used to provide popcorn and candy only. Lines moved quickly. Now they provide sliders and poppers and mozzarella sticks. Soon we may get beef Wellington. Why not, considering our location? One of the people at the stand has to take time to handle cooking, and that means that everyone else has to wait while the meals are prepared. No more hot dogs grilling all day; now everything is fresh. Not to mention far more expensive. Again, another reason for those long waits for the regular movie.
There is a trade-off, of course. I can see a lot more TV programs, adjust the sound easily since each channel seems to create its own sound level, and I can use the DVR to run through the dozen commercials that are now stuffed into every break. We have coffee drinks that are works of art, really focusing on differing tastes, and we could almost live off the food we get in the movies. All of that helps create a better lifestyle.
But it is lifestyle we are paying for, both in far higher costs in terms of money and time. I wonder if we can ever get back to the simple life.