Endangered Eclecticism

There is some opposition to the digitization of media. People talk about the tactile experience that they will sorely miss – the texture, the feel, the folding quality, the experience of turning the page, even the dog-earing, the highlighting, the underlining, the notes in the margin – all this I can understand and will miss, like others, if we come to live in a world where there are no newspapers and no magazines. However, despite our reluctance to let go of the tactile experience in reading, the demise of print media is imminent. Maybe not today, not tomorrow and not even in the next several months but I wouldn’t be surprised if our printing plants stop humming after five years or so.

So what happens next? Some folks believe that customized content, delivered electronically, is the wave of the future. I signed on to be a part of just such an experiment being conducted by my former employer, Time Inc. – an experimental magazine called Mine. Mine is going to select articles for me from five other magazines of interest to me. They had me fill out a form where they requested my answers to a few “seemingly random” questions ostensibly for them and for their sole advertiser – Lexus (makers of a car that will have 22 customizable features) to be able to help serve me better.

The questions chosen were almost as incomprehensible to me as a Rorschach inkblot is to the person being tested. They wanted to know whether I’d like to learn juggling or celebrity impersonation, whether I’d like to have dinner with Leonardo da Vinci or Socrates, whether I like pizza or sushi and whether I like singing in the car or not! What would my choices tell them about me? And how come I wasn’t given the option to choose neither?

I am certainly intrigued by this proposition and can’t wait to see my first issue of Mine. I am very eager to see what they selected for me because I would prefer pizza to sushi, even if I don’t really care for pizza. I would never in a million years consider learning how to juggle but I wouldn’t want to take classes in celebrity impersonation either. I showed a preference for the latter since I can do a good Elvis – “Thank you, thank you very much”. So which article would they choose for my perusal? Socrates and Leonardo…I wouldn’t mind being seated at a dinner flanked by them both but what would showing a preference for Leonardo get me? And as far as singing in the car is concerned, of course! I can’t even dream of not singing in the car! So what will they divine about my preferences?

Ironically this idea which is an “out of the box” approach for traditional print media is an approach that strives to shove us all into different boxes. Wonder why the old Malvina Reynolds song comes to mind:

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes, little boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

Somehow, someway we are all going to end up in little self contained boxes. No more wide horizons, no range of choices. If I go to the iTunes store and select “Little Boxes” by Malvina Reynolds its “Genius” feature will try to sell me ten different songs from the same artist or from that genre. It would be unfathomable for the folks at iTunes to believe that perhaps that was her only song that I ever liked. Amazon.com – my favorite online bookstore keeps trying to feed me more of the same stuff as well.

I don’t know what to make of this approach. I certainly don’t want my eclecticism endangered. I like confusing the heck out of them by selecting Portuguese Fado music, Indian classical music, western classical music, Scandinavian Nyckelharpa tunes and Appalachian fiddle music. Sometimes I purchase a classic rock song and at other times something from the Heartless Bastards or Fleet Foxes. I even bought something of Celine Dion’s! So what do they make of my musical tastes. Which marketable box are they going to put me in?

Do others feel their eclecticism as endangered as I do? It does seem as though we are turning our backs on the smorgasbord that life can be as we sleepwalk through our lives doing the same things every day, reading the same authors, the same genres, the same magazines, listening to the same type of music and drawing ourselves into am ever tightening circle of individuality. And the more such behaviors we exhibit the more they try to box us in.

I don’t think I want to continue to be the person I have always been. I want to sample everything, explore, experiment and evolve. I think their “little boxes” approach is equivalent to some sort of cultural/social inbreeding. I don’t think this apprehension is unique to me. I think we all get tired of limitations and familiarity does tend to breed some contempt. So why is it that they think they can sell us more of the same?

If Mine is successful, I am sure other publishing companies will jump on that bandwagon and soon we’ll all have our tailor-made content, happily reading only what we want to read and blind to all other ideas, opinions, possibilities.

Is this what we really want?


  1. reading the custom-made content is available on the net..why bother buying the printed stuff…..?????..we have been reading the famous autors to get an insight into the intelligent writing..don't u think so???enjyed reading this one..hugzPushpa

  2. But don't we already gravitate to "our" kind of thinking? Watch particular TV News analysis, read some magazines, and certain books. MINE will just make it more obvious…

  3. Alankrita, we do and this post is a result of thinking that we shouldn't. It's a path that really leads nowhere and makes us more and more encapsulated within our own selves…like being in a womb, then being in a virtual cocoon and finally in an urn or a tomb!

  4. Interesting post, and I quite agree. Btw, the little boxes was used in an Indian ad… fail to remember which one. I am hunting for it online now.

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