Saturday, April 17, 2010

On Demand

Last night, after the big guy got picked up for a sleepover at the home of an old friend, the remaining family settled in for a nice shabbas evening huddled around the soft glow of our 56" Samsung. On tap for the evening? Well, we didn't know. Something. Whatever we felt like. The PS3 was fired up, and we perused our way through the Netflix menu looking for something that would be just right for the night. After some back and forth, I proposed re-watching something I hadn't seen since I saw it at the old Ionic Cinema from the London of my youth. It was Dragonslayer, a surprisingly smart, hard-edged, and decently acted Disney flick from the early 1980s. Not for little kids, that one. Meaning, my ferocious barbarian of a 9 year old ate it up with a spoon.

From streaming HD from the PS3, my wife clicked over to our DVR, which is set to record...errr...America's Top Model. My mother-in-law arrived to watch the show, and I promptly recused myself to the study. I have tolerance for many things, but that particular show makes my brain bleed. I also worry that that level of media estrogen may result in significant and irreversible...well...what George on Seinfeld once called "shrinkage."

What struck me about last night was how utterly In Control we were. Our every need, desire, and whim for entertainment was met by the magic boxes in our home. Obscure 30 year old fantasy movie? Here it is, sir. The show you are usually too tired or busy to see? Recorded, and presented for your delectation at your leisure, Ma'am.

It's not what I experienced as a kid, but it forms the identity of this generation. They know no other way of being. Whatever you want, whenever you want it. Everything is on demand. Which is fun, particularly for control freaks like myself.

Unfortunately, it's not the way the universe works. Spring still comes when it wills. The tides still shift according to the pull of the moon, not our desires. Volcanoes still erupt under glaciers, and don't give a hoot about your travel plans.

Relationships are the same way. You cannot just serve up love on demand. Yeah, I know, you can buy it by the hour in Nevada, but honey, that ain't the same thing. You can't simply command another being to desire your presence, or even to agree with you. You can't make a community cohere, or stir the hearts of others simply because you want it. Though our media experience tells us otherwise, reality remains what it has always been.

If we've been trained to believe that we can have whatever we want, whenever we want it, we're just not ready to face it.