Thinking About Selection

When I was a kid I often thought about how great it would be to own every Nintendo game ever made. All of them, there for the playing whenever I wanted them. Fifteen years later, when emulators were born, I had hundreds of classics at my fingertips on my laptop with a classic controller: Mario, Metroid, Castlevania, Zelda, you name it. Yet, I ended up mostly playing Mike Tyson's Punch Out over and over, simply because I couldn't make up my mind which game to play next.

This is the irony of selection. We think we want everything, yet when we get it we don't know what to do with it. When Napster first debuted during my junior year of college, I remember stockpiling MP3s like it was a full-time job. It was like a dream come true, hundreds of thousands of megabytes there for the taking. I could download albums I had always wanted, but didn't want to actually purchase (illegally, I know, but that's irrelevant for this conversation) just to check them out. I could put thousands and thousands of songs on a player and use it like my own personal jukebox, forever changing the way we would DJ our house parties back then. Today I have more than 5,000 records backed up on my hard drive, yet I still prefer to listen to the radio.

Why is it that I get more excited about hearing my favorite song at a local bar than I am in the comfort of my own house? I can YouTube any song at any time and listen to it on my iPhone, yet there's something special about experiencing that moment when it comes unexpectedly. I remember waiting around all day as a kid to see Cinderella's "Save Me" video on MTV. I would sit there for hours, hoping they'd play it. When it finally would appear I would go crazy, picking up an old tennis racquet that would serve as my fake electric guitar. These days I can watch that video at my leisure, anywhere I am in the world at anytime. While having that access can be a wonderful thing, if I were to randomly see that video on VH1 Classic today I would be far more excited.

It's this phenomenon that's on my mind right now as I eat my lunch and think about my reunion with friends tomorrow in Modesto. We'll be having an all-day party at my friend Eric's house, the site of many memorable nights from my high-school days, and I need to bring the booze. What to bring? We were all born in 1979, so maybe I should grab the 1979 Glenfarclas? Are we really going to drink whisky though? What about wine, should I bring Champagne? Some Bordeaux from the year we graduated? Maybe I should bring a whole case of different spirits that my friends can try and sample as the day progresses. There are so many things I want to share with them! How in the world can I choose just a few?

Ultimately, I know what I need to do, it's just a matter of doing it. I need to spend the day talking to my friends, not talking to my friends about booze. I need to just pick something good, keep it simple, and let the booze speak for itself. Bringing too many things would simply overload my friends' ability to enjoy themselves. We'd all feel pressured to try everything, getting drunk way too fast, and likely sick before the day is over. Limiting our options is definitely the best way to go.

There's a great part in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's new novel Americanah where the main protagonist, Ifemelu, an imigrant from Nigeria, is working as a nanny while attending college in New York. She notices the sister of her boss asking her two-year old daughter if she wants a red, blue, or yellow balloon and the child starts crying when she can't make up her mind. Ifemelu thinks to herself, why even give the kid an option at all? Just give her a balloon! She'll be happy no matter which color she gets because in the end its still a balloon. Adichie writes that one of the great pleasures of childhood is not having to make decisions, but rather living in that bubble, free from responsibility and pressure. Yet more irony, right? As a child we might long to have grown-up options, but as an adult some of our greatest pleasures come from not having to think about these decisions.

What do you want to listen to? I don't know, just put something on the stereo. What do you want to eat? Surprise me. What do you want to drink? You pick it. I've found that many of my most memorable experiences with food and drink have been at the houses of colleagues or friends that planned out the menu for me. I didn't have to do anything but sit back and relax. That's what I'm going to do tomorrow. I'm going to pick a few wines and a bottle of whisky for us to enjoy and that's all there's going to be. No bar full of fifty options, no explaining to my friends why they might want one over the other. I'm just going to pour and that's it.

Sometimes having access to everything results in complete overload and there's nothing fun or fantastic about that.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll