Imagine you go to a buffet, and laid out in front of you are all your favorite foods; and I mean all of them, perfectly prepared just the way you like. For me, that means there’s Reuben sandwiches, and my Mother’s breaded veal, and my Great-Grandmother’s Zucchini Patties, and perfectly-done Filet Mignon with Bearnaise sauce, and -ooh!- chocolate ice-cream with banana in there somehow; and those girl-scout cookies – what are they called? – oh yeah, “Caramel deLites,” and super fluffy pancakes with sausage where the syrup gets on the sausage a little bit, and… man, on and on; so much good stuff to eat.
Get one plate. Now, what do you do? Most people would take a tiny bit of as much as they could, no matter how disgusting the combination might seem in retrospect. I mean, how could you choose just one thing? And yet, when we think back on the best meals we’ve ever had in our lives, they didn’t require 900 of our favorite foods to be there to be great. We probably only ate one thing, but it was prepared just perfectly, and it was in a great place with great company, and we cherish each of those memories always.
Today’s media landscape – news, art, culture – is that giant buffet. Everything is accessible instantly; all your favorite stuff from every conceivable genre. I read a report recently that users of Spotify weren’t even listening to full songs anymore; they listen for a little bit, and then click over to another “favorite” song. A couple of days ago, I noticed my 3-year-old had the same tendency. He would ask excitedly to hear a particular song, and then about halfway through ask for another. So many great choices… so little time?
I began making him sit through a song fully before moving on. Almost instantly his behavior changed: afterwards he would often ask to listen to the song again instead of moving on; in some cases, he would have bypassed new songs altogether in favor of his usual ones, but when compelled to give it a try and not just click off – when compelled to spend more time with it – he found ones he liked even more.
Not all that long ago I watched a girl in her early 20’s text most of the way through one of the best movies ever made; a movie she hadn’t seen before, but proclaimed she “loved” after the fact. I estimate she saw half of it, and absorbed almost none of it, save the impression that it was really, you know, great. We have attention-deficit issues because we don’t pay attention to anything for more than a second; it robs us of true pleasure, true connection, clarity of thought, and satisfaction with life.
The best meals aren’t had at buffets. What did we expect?