Devolution of Experience

I had a great conversation with a customer in the store last week who drove all the way from Nevada to pick out some unique bottles of booze.  When it came time to choose a nice Cognac, he turned to me slowly and said to me very directly, "I want something with balls, not this sweet and smooth nonsense."  Not only was he speaking my language literally (as I have a notoriously dirty mouth), but also figuratively as I knew exactly what he meant.  He didn't want something with a kick or with high alcohol, but rather a brandy made with real flavor, not simply a richer spirit that's all wood and caramel. As we started talking booze, he brought up a pet theme of mine that I could spout off about for hours: the dumbing-down of experience for the sake of the entry level payoff.  I can see how that might not make sense so I'll elaborate.

I have my own examples of what I mean based on my own interests (books, film, booze), but I loved how this guy had his own personal peeves.  "It's like camera equipment or camping gear!" he exclaimed and I pressed him to explain a bit further.  As a serious photo enthusiast, he stated that every new high-end camera was made cheaply these days and without the various options that appeal to the serious photographer.  The intent is obviously to market their formerly esoteric equipment to a greater number of people, but they do so at the expense of their true diehards.  Those with patience and experience would rather take the necessary time and training to understand what makes their product, while more difficult to comprehend at first, ultimately more rewarding over time.  It takes a while to understand shutter speed and aperture, but in the end when you understand their relation to film speed you will take better pictures than any default setting on a digital camera.  Experience is the key to appreciating high quality because it takes time to understand all these complicated concepts, but these days everyone wants to be an expert right out of the gate.

All of this guy's opinions on camera equipment, followed by my views on modern literature, ended up leading into our shared feelings towards booze.  These days, everything is manipulated to taste good to the greatest number of people, forsaking those of us who appreciate the traditional character, which isn't immediately agreeable or even apparent to the novice drinker. Tequila is the best example of this, but there are a growing number of rich, oaky, and vanilla-loaded single malts that are geared towards the inexperienced.  I say "inexperienced" because they're priced like premium spirits despite their obvious lack of quality and character.  The hope is that someone that's new to the genre will want to feel like an expert and pay a boat load of cash for their bottle, oblivious to the fact that what they're really getting is a bottle full of crap. 

Any one else out their have a similar opinion about this societal devolution?  Please chime in on the comment field if you do.  I loved hearing about how camera equipment fit into this formula.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll