When did we, as a society, decide that 10,000 choices at every turn was something we wanted? Isn’t life hard enough?
I recently visited my best friend and her cousins in Louisiana, home of (among other things) the drive-thru daiquiri stand. As we drove by one particular stand, I was struck dumb by the flavor list. It took up the entire wall of the stand.
It wasn’t some little shack or a food truck. This mother was the size of a two-car garage. Seriously? How many flavors of sugar do we possibly need to mask the rail liquor that is really the whole point of the drink? There it was—a 10’x20’ sign of a society out of control with options. It’s rampant—it’s everywhere!
We can get 400 channels on cable, 30 more streamed from the internet. Shoe stores the size of a warehouse can’t fit all the styles of shoe that exist, but we can certainly find the rest on any number of websites solely dedicated to them.
Restaurant menus are vinyl-bound novellas, with 20 appetizers, 10 different salads, 20 entrees, 14 different ways to have a burger. The choice of restaurants is infinite. Fast food restaurants alone outnumber grocery stores five to one in the US. I wonder what the ratio is to gyms.
Online dating is like looking at a Toys R Us catalog—page after page of old men, young men, fat men, skinny men, posing with motorcycles, lots of men holding their phones while posing in their bathroom mirrors (guys… we really need to work on the art of the selfie!) And when we go out a couple of times and then decide we don’t like the way he holds his fork, we can just go find another.
But this isn’t new.
30 years ago, Robin Williams played Vladimir, a Russian musician who defects when his circus visits New York, in a movie called Moscow on the Hudson. Just days after defecting, the family that took him in sends him to the grocery store for coffee. In 1984 Russia, there was coffee—sometimes. You got whatever coffee there was. It didn’t have a brand name, you had no choice—you were just happy to get some. Alone, at an American grocery store for the first time, Vladimir discovers that coffee takes up half the aisle and has a full-blown meltdown.
Once upon a time, there were seven flavors of daiquiri. They tasted great and you caught a buzz. Mission accomplished.
We got four, maybe five channels on TV. If Gilligan’s Island wasn’t on yet, we just watched the A-Team or The Brady Bunch till it was. How on Earth did we survive without 400 channels?!
Back in the olden days (you know, the 80s?), restaurant menus were one big piece of laminated paper, folded in half, with four sides of meals to choose from. We didn’t need more than that—you want a burger, a sandwich, or an entree? The end.
I get looked at like I’m speaking in type-o when I order a hamburger with lettuce, tomato and a side of fries. “No cheese? Mushrooms? Bacon? You’re sure you just want fries? What about some deep fried asparagus? I could bring out an onion blossom—how about that?”
Online dating exists because we no longer make eye contact across the produce in the grocery store, much less engage in conversation that might lead to a date. But online dating has become such a flippant activity, like shopping for a new shirt or video game. Those pages of pictures are actual people—with feelings and lives. Even the jackasses that build a profile about finding their perfect match just so they can get laid are people (sort of).
By making the dating options endless, we are always comparing who’s right in front of us to who might still be out there. Like finding “the one” wasn’t hard enough…
When did we all get so friggin’ unhappy with what we already had?
Is it really better to have more to choose from? Are our lives really better? We’ve created a beast in our culture that is never satisfied with what is right in front of us. We have to constantly reinvent what we already have to keep us from seeing that none of it is really making us happy.
In Buddhism, all of these choices are just worthless distractions.
All the TV channels and daiquiri flavors in the world aren’t really going to bring happiness, and I don’t think you have to be a Buddhist to get that. We’re all going to die anyway; why waste our time caught up in how difficult we can make it to get a burger? Gimme simple. Gimme easy, so I can get back to what really matters.
Just gimme a burger with some fries. Okay?
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Kimby Maxson/Editor: Catherine Monkman