I live in the ‘burbs called Orange County, mnemonically known as OC, as popularized by the debauched yet apt namesake TV show.
Wide roads, monstrous SUVs, Starbucks at every corner, strip Malls with ubiquitous generic American brands such as Best Buy, Costco, Target, and Subway. And of course, since it is upscale suburbia-littered with just a dash of “culture,” such as the painfully banal Daphne’s Greek cuisine or what I call the bastardization of Chinese food-P.F. Changs!
Most people move to the ‘burbs for a sense of community, the big homes for entertaining “friends,” the white picket fence, the neighborhood park where all can assimilate and interact. The purpose is to be in physical proximity with other people, which should lead to interaction with other human beings!
The general consensus is life in the ‘burbs is wholesome and uniting versus life in the big city is lonely and isolating. .
During my bi-coastal trips I have, on many an occasion, pondered over this premise and tried to decipher the truth or fallacy of it.
I have lived in the ‘burbs for many years. But for some reason never felt at home, always felt disassociated and disconnected with my environment. Could be the result of being a migrant. Let’s say I am a citizen of the world-at-large, using a term of modern, globalized vocabulary. Sounds more well-adjusted rather than the rant of a dysfunctional immigrant.
I understand and subscribe to the theory of living life inside out etc. But our environment does play a critical role in shaping us, in molding our personality, our thought processes, our preferences, hell even our choices. Would a lion cub grow up to be a vicious man-eater if he was taken out of its natural wilderness habitat and raised say in the ’ burbs by PETA! Its carnal nature, even if not completely obliterated, would be significantly tempered, one would think so.
When I look around suburban environment, under the cosmetic appearance of a “community” all I see is people living inside their homes, surrounded by an assemblage of people they know and are familiar with day after day, year after year. All the talk of being a “community” is limited to immediate and extended family and a small group of friends. The streets are empty, the parks reek of territorial family gatherings and the restaurants promote family nights. There is a vacuous hole in the soul of suburbia.
In suburbia, the only gathering of people you will see is in a mall, where everyone is in a rush to consume, jump into their SUV’s and guess where do they want to rush back to-their insulated homes of course! The touted sense of community in the suburbs is as mythical as the unicorn!
On the other hand during my visits to cosmopolitan cities of the world, I can feel a palpable sense of community. Yes, you may not know your neighbor’s name or may not pop-in to borrow the proverbial bowl of sugar, but in modern times of stevia and agave that has truly become an extinct adage.
The communal feeling in big cities comes from the people itself. It comes from the sea of humanity that surrounds you. It comes from the brimming streets jam-packed with people. It comes from sitting in such close proximity at cafes that one has to interact with the person breathing into your latte. It comes from walking in Central Park and striking a conversation with a complete stranger from the other side of the world, who in turn is seeking the same bond as well. It comes from sharing a seat on the subway where you can help your fellow passenger with Word Search.
In big cities the concept of space becomes smaller (as opposed to gargantuan suburban spaces), to a point where it becomes non-extinct. Unlike the notion of conceptualized ghost-proximity proposed in the Utopian suburbia, there is actual physical proximity in big cities. The proximity is what unites.
I have also noted that the element of creativity, innovativeness, discovery and inspiration is intensely lacking in suburbia to a point that it is soul and spirit crushing. The dullness of it often grips my heart like the choke-hold of an LAPD cop.
Environment motivates one to innovate, create, observe, reflect. That is the reason the great thinkers, artists, painters, sculptors lived in vibrant, vivacious cities such as Paris, Rome, London, Milano, NYC. Would Hemingway and Dostoyevsky be inspired to write great masterpieces sitting at a Starbucks in OC!
So, my point, to a great extent, is validated that our environment does play a pertinent role in providing inspiration.
A mundane window display of paper towels in the corner store can strike up an intellectual discussion amongst passersby regarding the contribution of Warhol to art and pop-culture, thereby leading to a possibility of lifetime friendship and interaction. All because the big city gives an opportunity to walk amidst humans rather than sit behind the steel door of an SUV door.
Since childhood we are taught to make choices. All of us at one point of time or the other have heard the familiar rendition from our parents, “Make the right choice,” “Whatever choices you make now will impact your life forever,” “Once you make the choice there is no going back,” etc. etc. We are taught to carefully weigh our options and pick one.
The premise of making a choice is that you have at least two alternatives available, thereby giving you the opportunity to choose one from the other. Either you choose “this or that,” go with “one or the other,” settle on “A or B.”
Making a choice has a positive connotation in our society as it comes with a plurality. It consists of choosing one option from multiple options, thereby honing our discriminatory skills, sharpening our minds and developing our judgment.
Somehow in modern society singularity is not seen in a positive light. A single option is never good enough. “One” simply does not have the pizzazz as “multiple.” So, I stipulate having the freedom to choose from multiple choices is good in many circumstances.
But, along with the benefits of choices come the burdens as well. At times there are “too many choices,” leading to the fatigue of mental capabilities and a bankruptcy of the brain. A “brain-drain” if you will.
Yesterday I went to my local, organic, over-priced, yuppie, bulk-cereal selling grocery store. I wanted a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice and since they have a juice bar thought it would be the perfect place to have it. It is only logical that an elaborate juice bar will have a simple thing such as orange juice. My salivary glands went in overdrive thinking of the whirring of the machine squeezing the warm, pulpy, sweet, tangerine juice from a succulent ripe orange. No fuss, no complications. Sweet, simple bliss.
Au contraire! The “juice specialist” reached into the refrigerator and brought out a plastic container filled with juice! As she started to pour, I stopped her in mid-pour and demanded where the “freshly squeezed” juice was. I was advised with disdain that this is all they had. There was nothing “fresh” about the cold, “sitting-for-hours-in-the-refrigerator” juice. Needless to say I was crestfallen.
But, hey we live in a world of choices, so I exercised my right to choice and ordered a mixed carrot, pineapple and apple juice. I thought it would be an easy one as the store offers an extensive convoluted mixed drink menu. The clerk looked at me with a dropped jaw and asked what “base” I wanted so that she could make the necessary division of fruit. It was my turn to drop my jaw, as I had never imagined that a glass of juice could get so very complex. It seemed that a simple drink had turned into a flow-chart of multiple choices with off-shoots in various directions. Would I now be asked to divide my drink into fractions and percentages? I shuddered with fright as my math skills border on being cipher and the calculator on my Blackberry gets stuck on the division key.
The array of choices had turned into a nightmare and needless to say my taste for the sweet juice had soured by now.
I don’t know if you guys have noticed it or not, but in today’s times we are constantly faced with an overabundance of choices even for simple things. Items where one would not expect or want to make a choice, such as ordering a glass of juice that should not require algorithmic equations.
It makes me wonder, do these choices really help us or are they unnecessarily using up our brain data that should be reserved for higher, more complex and loftier purposes.
Another example is coffee. I have written about coffee before as I love the heavenly elixir. I go to a coffee shop looking forward to a cup of hot, milky, divine brew. What am I faced with? Choices, choices and more choices. Complex volume sizes in faux-foreign languages; measurements of coffee shots in metric sizes that I am unfamiliar with; milk calculated in percentages; coffee whiteners made of items that I usually associate with eating rather than drinking, such as coconut; use of a “shot” glass that reminds me of a Russian vodka bar rather than a warm, soothing, literary coffee shop.
Historically, coffee shops were used as meeting places for scholars, artists and the literary. Ideas were born, debates were held, classics written and labyrinthine theories pondered upon over umpteen cups of coffee, yes plain and simple coffee. The likes of Hemingway, Picasso and Henry Miller used to hang out in cafes such as Le Select in Paris. I wonder if Hemingway could have written The Old Man and the Sea if he was spending time ordering a complex coffee drink and flustering between choices such as non-fat, 2%, low-fat, one shot or multiple shots, venti, grande or whatever the hell the third size is latte!!! Or if Picasso would have time or the energy to doodle Dance of Youth on a napkin after ordering a drink from a “not-so-easy-to-decipher” multiple-choice menu!
How about social media? We all love it and use the gazillion choices in social media. I understand it is all about visibility. But after some time doesn’t it get redundant, repetitive and non-innovative. The same content is posted on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Instagram, Pinterest, Hootsuite, Tumblr etc.
Are we creating new content in the various mediums of social media or is it simply transmission of the same content to various channels. Would the works of Leonardo di Vinci be masterpieces if he took photos and blogged, Tweeted, Facebooked and Tumblred them. Wouldn’t the glory of his masterpieces be diluted by the number of choices available?
Choices are great as they give us freedom. They give us options. However, certain things in life should be kept simple. They are enjoyed most when in their simplest form such as a simple cup of coffee. Too many choices create Horror vacui, cluttering the mental faculties and debilitating the brain, thereby leaving little room for the brain to perform at its maximum capacity.