On a typical summer day, I’m presented with a lot of choices. Too many, it seems. I can keep watching “Hannibal”, which I’ve already decided is amazing and the most visually unique thing I’ve seen on TV, but which I can’t seem to keep watching. I could start a new show — maybe “Orphan Black”? I’ve wanted to see that for a while. Or I could get around to finishing that Jonathan Franzen novel that I’ve sworn to all my friends is so good. Actually, maybe I should just go to the gym.
This pisses me off.
Netflix and the rise of instant entertainment have decimated any sense of commitment when it comes to pastimes. When you pop in a DVD — or a VCR, for that matter — you’ve essentially declared yourself to this movie. You now have a quite compelling obligation to finish this, no matter the quality. I can’t tell you how many movies are gathering dust at the end of my “Continue Watching” section on Netflix.
And, to my surprise, it became more difficult to sit down and tear through a good book this summer. I can vividly remember when reading came as easily to me as watching a rerun of “The Office” does today. Two summers ago, I re-read the entire Harry Potter series in one week. This summer, I’ve finished my fair share of books, but it felt like I had to work for it. It was something I had to conceive of, plan out, and execute rather than simply lying on the sofa and doing it.
On one hand, having this many TV shows, movies, books, music, and more at my fingertips is a luxury. But I do wish it were more simple. When I visited India this year, I was reminded of one aspect of the culture, of a place I had visited countless times before, of people I’d loved and who’d loved me back since before I was born: simplicity.
My cousins all wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, and go to school. They come back, they eat something, and then go out and play for hours. Dinner, and then homework, and then bedtime. On the weekends, they spend time with their families— go out to a movie, do some shopping, help in the kitchen. These are their lives.
For years, I had always looked down on my cousins, condescending and patronizing, internally lamenting their lack of driver’s licenses and freedom. This year, I felt something different. I realized I was instead jealous — and I was an asshole.
They never fret about whether or not their friends are hanging out without them, or worry about how many likes their profile picture will get. No one really works out, because people would rather eat their mother’s home-cooked food and feel satisfied than eat a kale salad and feel crappy. If they don’t do their homework, they’re scolded, but more playfully, in a way that, in the end, they know it’s all part of life and sometimes you’d rather spend time with your friends than do work.
Compare that to academic life where I grew up, where a failed test or assignment came with the side effects of crippling worry, reduced college aspirations, and panicked attempts to regain your standing among your peers. Their choices aren’t “Hannibal”, the gym, or “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen, but rather food, friends, and family.
When I asked my cousin what he watches on TV one day, he said, “Just whatever comes on. I think Netflix will be big in India soon, hopefully.”
I thought to myself, just as condescendingly, just as patronizingly, just as selfishly, I hope not.