Saturday, December 15, 2012

I never believed that magazine article I read once which claimed that the sitting in-posture for over 12 hours in the economy class of a commercial airline has the equivalent health benefits of 5 weeks of mandatory yoga class. If we know anything about how the economy works these days, we can suspect that the article would have been totally paid for by the commercial air travel and tourism industry.  Anything that took my mind off that miserable lie during my current flight was great. This is where the in-flight entertainment comes in.

Not so long ago, the inflight entertainment options existed. Yeah, to be frank, that it existed was more than enough. Those were simpler times when we had the capacity to feel content at the marvel of technology to make us fly over the ocean in a titanium can. Sure, there was a slight disappointment since it wasn't the exactly like the magic carpet as Arabian nights envisioned it but it was close and may be better considering the risk of catching cold with all that wind over the carpet. Anyway, the in-flight entertainment then was simple and straight forward. There would be three movies scheduled to play back to back. If you are interested in any of the movies, you are welcome to plug your complimentary headphones according to the schedule and start joining the telecast. The schedule was readily accessible in the inflight duty-free Skymall magazine in the pocket before you. The inflight entertainment was like the good old days TV where everything was pre-determined, pre-planned, pre-scheduled and reminds us of the pre-internet, pre-everything era when we had to plan our work and meals according to what a mid-level employee at a TV station decided. But, as I said, it was just fine. I had no complaints. My attitude was simple: "You got some food?  3 movies? Oh! Plus there is classical music radio too? Excellent. I'll watch them as per the schedule.  Benefits of a Yoga class, my ass!!!”

Have you checked out the inflight entertainment recently? It’s AWESOME these days. I was simply bowled over by the number of options that were there. There were over 600 channels of entertainment - over 200 movies across all possible genres and languages: comedy, drama, romance, action, animation, latest releases, old-time classics, Oscar winners, film noir, Bollywood movies, Italian movies, Iranian movies, French movies, Spanish movies etc. Like that was not enough, there were another 200 TV shows ranging from sitcoms to documentaries to reality TV to sports telecasts. And then, there were the audio entertainment selections: from playlists of all major music artists across the world from the classical to contemporary eras, comedy albums and podcasts.  On top of all that, you could try playing dozens of games too. It's like having one of that high-tech smart tablet thingys, a 4G connection and a lot of time to kill: something I almost never have in real life.  These entertainment options were mind boggling. With all this, who cares about yoga benefits? I was ready to be entertained the hell out of myself.

Totally psyched about the 14 hour long flight full of spectacular possibilities entertainment-wise, I began to browse through the list trying to search for the most perfect movie to start off the journey with. Overwhelmed with choice, my mind, like a dog’s tail that keeps curling back even no matter how much you hold it straightened, soon started walking down the familiar dark alley of disconcertment:

What movie to see? Hmm … let me see … What's my mood like? there's this Disney's Alice in Wonderland which was my favorite book as a child or there's the new Bourne movie …there is a documentary on the history of death metal music … perhaps I should try something eclectic / artsy-fartsy from the French or Italian genre … of course, remember?  It's been a while since I have seen any  new desi movie after I gave up on them following that dumbass Ranbir Kapoor flick… Hey, What about some film-noir? Huh? One never gets enough of Bogart … no, no … too early for old movies …. maybe later … Let's turn to the TV section … there's ever super-funny "curb your enthusiasm" … can watch 'em anytime, anywhere even though I have seen all the episodes at least 40 times each … the radio section has best of Woody Allen and best of Bill Cosby stand-up … I will have to remember to  check them out later in the flight … holy damn happy luck … here's a collection of Monty Python too … this is the best day ever …  But, you know what?  I am getting this feeling that I could take in one of those classy gangster movies from the 70s ... Let me see if there are any good ones … Naaah … it could be too long and too complex a plot… I want something simpler with respect to moral complexity … ooh… there are bugs bunny and daffy duck cartoons ...

Meanwhile, my lesser-half, my emotional counterpart, my right brain is getting all impatient: 

Yes, folks. Choice is hard, my friends. Very, very hard. Over-choice in past has confused expert squirrels in a nut factory, fat flies in a desi-ghee sweets stall, champion cockroaches in five-star restaurants, and experienced lady shoppers in boutique outlets. After all, who the hell am I in front of all these professionals? My reluctant-consumer misfit persona who tries to run away from choice is a joke in a situation like this. I have already wasted 20 minutes and I am nowhere close to deciding the best movie to begin this 14-hour flight with. 

Hey … Hey … I know. Ok? I know that there are people starving in East Africa right now. And that I, a well-fed urban adult from the first-world consumer generation, am struggling with a problem of selecting precise entertainment possibilities in an air-conditioned flight abound his vacation. We got these goddamn people nowadays professing moral latitude because their problem identification skills can classify my situation as a “first-world problem”. Yeah. So? How does this reminder that my problem is shallow help anyone's condition? It's not going to feed our hungry East-African friends. Besides, I never found out the movie I ought to watch because some posturing jerk from the Human Moral Potential think-tank ridiculed my state of perplexity. Did I snatch away their food and convert that into 600 movies to choose from? Well, if you factor in how the general direction of the present-day global economic system, favoring instant-profitability over long-term wealth-creation, is gravitating towards encouraging the richer segments of society to consume more and more goods they don’t even need while deliberately abandoning the markets that can provide basic essential services to the impoverished, it may all start to make sense. But, hey, don't corner me with all that. I am trying to waste some time just like anyone else on this flight. Why bother me alone?

Besides, I didn't ask anyone to give all these options. They just gave it to me. It's nice and all but if it's tossing me into a washing machine of confusion … no, let me try that metaphor again … if it's tossing me into a cyclone of confusions, is this much of good choice any useful? I don't know, man.  Remember when the kings used to hold a swayamvar to marry his princess bride? He would announce it loud and far and dozens of brave, handsome princes would attend the ceremony to seek the hand of the nubile princess. That's a classic situation of over-choice for the princess. And even they had to reduce it to a reality TV contest like "who ever breaks the super-heavy Shiva Dhanush (Shiva's Bow) gets to marry her". At least, our Lord Rama had to. So, over-choice has been a problem forever.

What's so bad about the previous set-up where 3 movies were scheduled without my consultation ? I think choice works for people when they exactly know what they are looking for. But how often do you see that happen? For me, that number is almost zero. People like me don't deserve too much choice. I never know what I want: right from what flavor of caramel ice-cream to choosing careers. Just tell me my options and I will choose one of them. "Choose the correct answer" was always my favorite style of exams. I have this "whatever works" feeling about everything, that it's all arbitrary and that on a different day, I am likely to choose the exact opposite depending on how my mood's doing. Besides, a close look at the world around reveals people can easily accept a lack of choice: you don't see people complaining that they can't fly; people in middle-east have the Friday as their weekend, they got used to it. If someone asks you to wear uniform to work, so what? In fact, there are some professions where full grown adults wear uniforms to work: flight-attendants, waiters at McDonalds, lawyers in their coats, bankers in their suave suits and the military - some of them probably see it as an identity thing too. People have come to accept many rules because we are told we have no choice: war, nuclear weapons as instruments of peace, assault rifles for self-defense, corrupt politicians, bribing, survival of the fittest, looking out for ourselves first, trial-marriages, entrance exams, summer camps, Valentine’s Day - the list goes on and on. Today, people are laying on railway tracks for the fear of not being able to pay debts, ready to take their lives afraid of their banker even more than the real lethal things like virus strains or global warming. It's amazing how silently and flexibly we accept lack of critical choices, work around with constraints and manage to get on with our lives somehow. Once in a while, choice seems way over-rated all of a sudden. It's all very weird, man.

As of me, in a state of over-choice, my brain simply defaults to the familiar worlds, makes the same choices that I know worked before. Racing against time, torn between the urgency to select something to watch without wasting any more time and the pressure of making the best decision ever, I put on another episode of the ever-funny "Curb Your Enthusiasm". No matter how many times I see it, this stuff never gets old. Having completely forgotten about the whole personal responsibility of efficiently entertaining myself, I think to myself, "Ah! Now they are serving food. I am so starved. Bless the airline for its timing. Bon Voyage".

My stupid, evil, right brain twin was right after all. GOD, HOW MUCH I HATE HIM.

(Some) References:


Twilight Musings said...

Our posting and commenting is becoming a feedback loop. :)

So, you had a good flight then.

Sash! said...

hehe ... it's like sweepstakes poker ...

I see your post ... and ... I raiase you my post ... :)

Twilight Musings said...

On viewing both the TED talks, I think the problem of choice relates to not having enough time for testing.

When the choice is limited, you will have enough time to get data on each of them. With increasing choice, we are without time for data. So now it is crowd-sourcing and looking at reviews.

I am thinking, perhaps there is a market-gap for a 'decision-making' app. We can 'train' it based on the other choices and based on behavioural psychological you will plug in options "Curb your enthusiasm" or "bollywood movie" and provide constraints "12 hours", it will give you an optimized curve of enjoyment.

If Target can accurately guess (predict!) who is pregnant based on their 3-month purchases, there must be something for entertainment too.

P.S. May be I should put (c) after the above thing? :P

Sash! said...

I marvel at how Netflix works .. they do a terrific job ...

I do think there can be a market for taking the Netflix-type suggestion and decision maker (and not just for movies) offline ... copyright it :)

it's not just the problem of dealing with choice but the problem of superfluous/undermining choice sometimes too ... :)

Ramya V said...

My hugs and kisses to your grand father for giving 'challa gaalilo' and many other gems. Just give the hugs on my behalf, will ya! :) He just made my new year's eve with his words!

Hugs to you too, and a very happy new year, flawsophy! :)

Sash! said...

@ramya: Thank you, Thank you. Why! I just met him yesterday. He is 90+ and is still a charm to be around.


Madhu said...

Agree on Curb your enthusiasm! If I had CYE on a flight, I wouldn't think of anything else to watch.. 'prettyy pretty good'

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