Daily Archives: July 12, 2016

Lots of Choices . . . or Choices, How Many Do We Need? . . . or, Is New and Improved Really New AND Improved? You Choose

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The cooler in the one gas station in Grandma’s tiny town looked like this.

Pine Sol. Dr. Pepper. Iced tea. Shooting stars. Hair spray. The smell of a barn. Fields of undulating wheat. A tinny AM radio playing at night. The sound of a box fan cooling off the summer night. 

These are some of the sensory memories I have from childhood summers spent on Grandma’s farm. 

I miss those summers so much. Grandma is gone now; the house is abandoned; cousins are grown up; and life is no longer so simple.

I’m writing today about the idea of how “new and improved” is often new, but not necessarily improved. Ostensibly, there is a reason why the new is also improved, but I long for the simplicity of those days on the farm.

I’ve written about the television and how it used to involve one button to turn on/off and a dial to change the station. I’ve tried to adapt to the fact that now a tv can easily involve three or more remotes, can be attached to a myriad of cords, costs money and includes multiple fees and charges that go way beyond the cost and the tax. TV today has hundreds of offerings 24/7.  And don’t forget the router! And the Airport Extreme! 

Back then, you had a tv and an antenna. The tv was plugged into the wall, not a surge protector. There was one cord coming from the back of the tv, or at most, two.

OF COURSE we have many more choices than we did then. TV was almost an afterthought. Certainly we were subject to the schedule of the station, not to our own. It’s certainly “new” to have thousands of viewing options every minute of every day, but I daresay it is not improved.

Or take coffee. Grandma had a Mr. Coffee coffee maker. It made coffee. You pushed a button and voila. Coffee at the ready. Sure it’s fun now to have options, but it’s also so much more complicated. In our home, wherein we think we believe in simplicity, we have a cool little Aeropress coffee maker, and a French press. We have an electric coffee bean grinder and a manual grinder. We have 2.5″ circular filters for the Aeropress, and a metal reusable filter for the French press. We actually have coffee right now from Puerto Rice and Amsterdam (and greatly appreciate the people who brought it to us — you know who you are). Even going to the grocery store to get coffee. Oy vey. Holy crap.

I get decision fatigue every time I do anything these days. Even if I find a coffee brand I love, I find it necessary to consider whether there are other brands that I like as well on sale, or are part of the “new and improved” specials that the grocery store offers these days (Buy 6, get $3 off, Buy 10, get $5 off — always changing the terms, they are)

So when I think back to days on the farm, my adult self realizes that all was not always well. There were divorces, deaths, crops ruined by weather, farm accidents which took fingers and limbs and lives. But there weren’t so many choices. Obviously, having choices is part of what it means to be human. The fewer choices we have, the less we are in charge of our own lives. Think of the prisoners in jail, or people in slavery. Having choices is not the problem. For me, it’s that everything seems to have SO MANY CHOICES.

My lovely car offers connection to my phone through a lightning cable or through bluetooth, plus has a CD player, plus an am-fm radio, plus offers the capability to use Sirius radio, if I really felt like I needed more choices! I can put a song on repeat; I can put my music on to play in random order; I can listen to books on tape; I can listen to podcasts, I can switch between talk radio, National Public Radio, and top 4o music with a touch of a button. I can mute my music, take a call, make a call, change from CD to music. Nice to have so many choices . . . or is it?

Today I’m just pondering what it would mean to find a way to live a simpler lifestyle in this very busy world. I know that there must be others who feel this way, because I have come to understand that there is little to nothing that I think or feel that isn’t common to at least one other person.

So maybe it is aspiring TO something, TO making a conscious decision to allow some of the options to be left out of the equation. I’m not sure yet how to do that. As I look around our home, I see so many options. Have I suddenly developed ADD? Is that why all the visual noise affects me like this? Is there something to the idea that simplicity is actually a concept that is valid to pursue in our world of many colors?

Just thinking.