Too much choice – welcoming a First World Problem back to the First World

Right now, we have the coronavirus pandemic wreaking the most havoc seen in the First World since 1945. Pandemics are not exactly First World Problems. They are what we expect to find in poor countries, ie the Third World (which reminds me, I heard a rumour that Ebola is making a comeback at the moment).

Which is why it is an opportune time to talk about too much choice, in the context of TV programming available to me today.

A very clever but highly dislikable sociology lecturer I studied under over 30 years ago once opined to his class that one of the problems we have in the modern world is too much choice, and that all this choice was not making us any happier.

I think, although as I have not thought too much about his words in the intervening decades (BTW he later wrote a book about nihilism in Western Culture which seemed to me to be a rip off of Nietzsche’s Will To Power), that he used video libraries as an example of where we are festooned with too much choice (the words of the Pet Shop Boys in one of their break through songs would probably have been unfamiliar to him).

And I suppose his words were true. Priggish and self-righteous though they (and he) were. Video libraries could be an overwhelming overload of choices of crap that you could rent and waste a few hours watching. (I did one weekend, when house sitting near a classier video library in Albert Park, treat myself to quite a few classic Bogart films though, which I was very pleased to finally see.)

It’s hard even for my generation to remember what it was like before and in the early days of colour TV (when video recorders were only used in schools to show us Playschool or David Attenbourough nature documentaries). We kept our crappy old Australian made TV (an Astoria) for ten years, and aside from regularly breaking down, it had very bad reception and only got us channels 7 and 9, choosing between which required a set of pliers as the channel selection dial had busted early on. Channels 2 and 0 (precursor to Ten) had signals too weak to easily pick up.

And there was the vertical hold problem – the TV picture kept jumping up and making it unwatchable (there was a vertical hold switch on the back of the set).

Even after we got our colour TV in 1981 which had channel selection buttons and better ability to pick up signals (and no vertical hold issues), the signal from channel 2 was not always strong enough to get a decent picture when trying to watch countdown.

So we had 2 channels in practice, and 4, later 5, in theory. And we tended to be glued to the TV set.

These days, we have data streaming. I have book marked all the major networks except for channel Ten, which is pretty crap most of the time these days, on my iMac. I stopped owning a functional TV set 3 or 4 years ago, and I don’t really miss it. But with either catch up or live streaming online of these free view channels, I have virtually unlimited choice (and unlimited data to use to watch them).

On top of those, right now, I also have Apple TV+, which kept me occupied at Christmas time, and am trialling Amazon Prime, which I have been binge watching since Easter Saturday.

And last year, when one of my close friends was living in my spare room after breaking up with his wife, I had free Netflix for a while!

So you see, an abundance of choice as to what to watch. Too much choice perhaps, and you have to wonder whether it it worth your while investing that much time of what you have assigned on this planet to lie around watching silly shows on TV instead of doing something else, even during a Pandemic.

I have not had a chance today to do any binge TV watching – it took longer than I expected to tidy up my garden a little and plant some lavender, and then place some begonia cuttings in pots for propagation. I think I am happier for having done those than for picking which is the next show on Amazon Prime I might spend a few hours staring at.

Published by Ernest Zanatta

Narrow minded Italian Catholic Conservative Peasant from Footscray.

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