Saturday, January 25, 2014

Choice And A New Generation

This week our family had midterms. Maybe I should say that my teenage daughter had midterms but, in truth, they affected all of us. Between quizzing her on vocab for English and monarchs for World History, driving to and from exams, and providing nutritious study food, like microwave popcorn and tortilla chips, my husband and I were very engaged in the process.

The other day, I was en route to pick her up after her last test at 12:30 pm. I had some time to kill before a conference call, so I texted her ...

Me: Can you take a study break for Chinese food with me?

Her: pls!

Note the enthusiasm and politeness. Note the lack of capital letters and vowels.

After our lunch, she asked — nicely — if we could stop at a local ice cream parlor for dessert.  I was pretty full but sent her in with $6, expecting change. (Yeah, right.) She returned with an enormous cup: cake batter ice cream with warm cookie dough topping. This, naturally, prompted a familiar, if impromptu, mom soliloquy along the lines of "When I was your age ..."

"Y'know," I told her. "When I was your age, we didn't have those flavors. If you wanted cookie dough, you actually ate cookie dough, not cookie dough topping or cookie dough ice cream. The only ice creams we had were vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Maybe coffee and chocolate chip. And some sherbets."

She listened, nodding courteously, as she savored her rather disgusting cup of ice cream.

"The biggest deal," I went on, encouraged by the unusual absense of sarcasm, "Was when Baskin Robbins opened on Broadway between 70th and 71st. They had 32 flavors! Your grandparents raised my allowance to 35¢ so I could get a cone every week."

She continued nodding. And eating. I dropped the subject, but couldn't help thinking about the ridiculous number of choices my daughter's generation has. Not only ice cream combinations we never dreamed of (Ben & Jerry's S'mores, anyone?), but media and entertainment too. 

Growing up in New York City in the 70s, we had three national networks, one public television station and two independents (channels 9 and 11). These last two played syndicated reruns of network shows and one of them, 11 I think, had the now famous "Yule Log" on Christmas eve. Compare that rather limited offering to my daughter's options today. We have over 1,000 channels on our digital cable. Plus DVR. Plus streaming Netflix. Plus On Demand. Plus DVDs. Plus, plus, plus.

Then, there's the actual television box. We had one set, in the living room. Today, we have three (living room, family room and kitchen). But, if you add all the devices through which we could watch a program, we have many more: three computers, three smart phones, one iPad ... and a partridge in a pear tree.

Wow. Look how far we've come! I mean, choice is good, right? Not always.

Sometimes this bombardment of options seems unnecessary at best. More often, I think it creates anxiety. "OMG. What am I missing???" It's impossible to watch every show, stay up with every new fad, try every flavor of ice cream (well, I guess you could try).

Whatever happened to sitting quietly with a book (there are 1,335,600 titles available on Kindle, give or take ten thousand)? Whatever happened to having one single conversation with one person rather than participating, simultaneously, in a half dozen group chats (in between texting, tweeting and twerking)?

Choices aren't going away. In fact, thanks to digital living, our choices will continue to grow exponentially every year. I just need to choose to get over it. 

But, there's consolation. You see, some things never change. With myriad options at my daughter's fingertips, I still get the same teenage lament my mother heard thirty-five years ago. 

"I'm so bored."

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at  

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