Too Much of a Good Thing
It's tragic that the things we love most in life can ultimately harm us if not kept in balance. That's an obvious allusion to drinking (especially on a blog about drinking), but I mean it in a different way. The thing about drinking too much is that there's usually no delay between the actions and the consequences. You'll know within a matter of hours whether you've had too much or not. But what about having too much to drink in terms of options? Is that possible? Is there such a thing as too many movies, too much music, or too many funny cat videos to watch online? There's a point when the phrase "too much of a good thing" becomes less about eating two whole pizzas in one evening, and more about the delayed impact of over-saturation when, to use another aphorism, too many cooks spoil the broth. I believe there is such a thing as too many good television shows, too many new whiskies, and too many quality sushi options on my local Doordash because ultimately we can't sustain that many choices. But what happens when a societal shift occurs and a new generation decides it wants to do the same thing, no matter how saturated and overcrowded the field? How many new distilleries, wineries, restaurants, and sommeliers can the modern market tolerate? More importantly, how many critics, reviewers, experts, and personalities do we need to tell us what's good and what isn't? The internet's wide reach is at the forefront of this desire and its amateur connoisseurship has fundamentally changed our values about what's worth doing and what isn't.
At some point within the last fifteen years or so, the dreams and aspirations of our younger generations began to change. Not their desires, mind you, but more so how those desires were met or satiated. When I was in high school and college most of my friends talked about being doctors, lawyers, and corporate executives. Those were still the traditional paths to money, security, and societal worth back in the nineties. I can't say for sure whether any of those people actually wanted to be doctors, lawyers, or corporate execs, but what I know they wanted for sure was the respect, the wealth, and the pride in achievement that performing such a job would bring them. That was my generation's way of satisfying its core desire: to feel like our lives had meaning and worth. Then social media happened and suddenly those conservative and long-standing views about value began to shift. People began creating idealistic versions of their lives online for others to revel in, and that exposure led to new ideas and possibilities that have shaped every subsequent generation since. Last night my wife and I sat in our living room, putting the final touches on our vacation plans to Japan for next year, and we decided to search for a few travel videos about Tokyo and Kyoto—purely for the sake of continuing our excitement with a visual stimulus. That's when the size and scope of this new era really hit me. Simply put: there are thousands and thousands of amateur videos online about traveling in just about any location you can think of. Every twenty-something year old from here to Helsinki has a travel blog, travel YouTube video show, or travel food Pinterest board where they dole out advice to others and offer tips from the road. Instead of one good Anthony Bourdain we now have eight million less-interesting ones to sort through. These kids don't want to be lawyers or doctors. They want to be professional guys who get paid to travel, eat, and...you know...do stuff. Being a respected travel blogger represents the same desires we felt as teenagers, to be seen as important and cultured, only now they're manifested in an entirely new ideal.
What instantly strikes you about these amateur escapades is how much time has been spent on them. These kids aren't messing around. They have top notch cameras, expensive editing software, and they've obviously spent a lot of time watching the Travel Channel because their montages, cuts, and scenery shots are carbon copies. Then you watch them eat, listen to them talk, and hear their opinions and you just sort of grimace; that's when my wife and I looked at each other with pained and puzzled expressions and just laughed. When exactly did that generational switch happen? I'm not exactly sure, but I think at some point in the last ten years or so it became way cooler in certain metropolitan circles to be a travel blogger than it did a dentist. There's one very important distinction, however: you actually get paid to be a dentist. You also have to have professional training and experience, which is what really separates the zillions of hours of shitty travel media out there from the more mainstream players. I get it though. Traveling is exciting. Traveling is eye-opening. Learning more about the people and the cultures of our world is one of the most amazing experiences a human can have. I wholeheartedly believe that. But when you spend every minute of your precious travel time trying to showboat for the camera and present those "unique" experiences to others (the same experiences that 500,000 other people have already documented), are you really reaping the benefits? When I'm at a concert and I see 5,000 smart phones in the air taking a video of the performance, I have to ask myself: why are we even here? Are we making any sort of deeper connection with the world anymore, or is that type of experience irrelevant now?
Part of the reason I stopped reading almost all writing about wine and whiskey online came from that very same lack of a connection. 99.9% of the blogs, boards, or articles I see about drinking today are more about sizing each other up than creating an understanding of the substance. It's not just wine or whiskey, however; it's everything. It's what happens to any hobby when the primal enjoyment of it becomes buried under the need to rank and categorize each experience (and now document it on social media as well). It's what happened to pro-wrestling when bloggers began ranking matchs between one and five stars. It's what happened to indie music when Pitchfork began using a 10-point rating system for new albums and releases. It's what happened to movies when movie studios began using Rotten Tomatoes community scores as advertising. It's what happened to wine when Robert Parker began his 100 point onslaught. The desire is still the same as before—we want to drink something good—it's just that the way we go about it has changed. The manifestation of our ideal has moved. We used to choose what we drank, ate, listened to, or watched because something caught our attention. Something about the product moved us in a very personal way and we reacted. Maybe the ultimate experience wasn't "the best," and maybe we regretted the result, but at least it was a real experience and an actual lesson. Today we're not interested in learning. We want the internet to filter everything out that isn't "the best," so we can get right down to what's good and ignore what isn't. Ironically, what we really need is a filter from people trying to provide that filter. There is no way to guarantee a personal connection by narrowing down your Yelp selections to four stars or higher. You have to take a chance in life.
Every now and again when I come down on blogging or social media, I get a few emails from people who ask: isn't that hypocritical? Aren't you a blogger? Technically, I am. In reality, however, I'm a salesman who understands that real growth, real expansion, and real development isn't created by filtering out the best from the worst. It's about removing those basic and boring criteria and getting back to the fundamental reasons of why we drink—about why we do anything! It's about creating a community for people who share a similar passion and are interested in culture. If you can better explain the stories, the people, and the meaning behind these beverages, you can create a connection that goes beyond: "hey, is this good or not?" My purpose for writing has always been that personal connection. I love interacting with people and exchanging ideas. The reason people come back to this blog and continue to shop at K&L is because our work goes beyond filtration. We have an idea of drinking that includes more than just the 90+ point wines of the world. In an era where everyone wants to be the one telling you what's good, what you should be drinking, and what you should drink next, we want to also tell you who made it, where it was made, and why those intimate details might excite you. Any time I see myself slipping from that mindset, I have to check myself and get back to those basic tenements.
The things we love most in life can be ruined by saturation. I don't ever want the things I enjoy to be my ultimate undoing because I lost track of their meaning.