My Water Cooler Runneth Over Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014-06-02 23:00:00 No comments


The Water Cooler Runs Dry - NYTimes.com

With so very much to choose from, a person can stick to one or two preferred micro-genres and subsist entirely on them, while other people gorge on a completely different set of ingredients. You like “Housewives”? Savor them in multiple cities and accents. Food porn? Stuff yourself silly. Vampire fiction? The vein never runs dry.

Purchase on Amazon

That sounds like the old paradox-of-choice problem writ locally: with so much out there, you tend to focus only on what you already know, because few people are up for shoveling through all those other haystacks looking for their particular needles.

Now, some skepticism exists about the paradox of choice — that in some venues, more choice increases engagement, where in others it lessens it. The hard part is figuring out which venues benefit from more choices.

I have a theory. (Uh-oh.) My thought is that water-cooler folks — the people who read, watch TV, &c, mainly as a form of social engagement — are slightly more paralyzed by a wider range of choices because their main motive for doing what they do is to engage with other people over a pre-existing set of entertainments. Hence reading circles, etc.: the choices about what to read are reduced, and even the kinds of thinking meant to take place around those works are made all the easier by the inclusion of a list of discussion questions.

The downside of this approach, though, is that it makes reading into a kind of checklist exercise. For me, half the fun of reading came from discovering what to read in the first place — and again, half the fun in that lay in getting out of my bubble of preferences and determining what else might be out there, only slightly beyond my reach.

This is part of why I have such an unease about mainstream multiplex culture — the machine that latches onto a trend, drafts endless creators into its service (what? Supernatural porn is LAST year; THIS year it's YA dystopias!), and leaves behind one hectare of scorched creative earth after another. It's not that the things that come out of it are wholly bad; some of them are pretty good and every now and then they're brilliant. But the despoliation of our creative environment is toxic and, I fear, permanent. There's not just that much more creativity produced, but that much less incentive to seek it as well — even among those who might otherwise consider themselves dedicated to just such a quest.


Tags: entertainment marketing psychology science