By: STEPHEN M. SALISBURY
My last few columns have been about super serious topics, so when I sat down to write this week, I thought I might like to lighten things up a bit. I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite things in the world to do is nothing! Jerry Seinfeld had a very popular show about “doing nothing” back in the 1990s. You know what I mean. We all are so busy with school, work, family, and various other life obligations, that when we get a chance to “veg-out” and just relax in front of the TV or go to a movie, it can be quite fun, but it can also be frustrating.
This time of year is when many new television shows start up or returning shows start new seasons. How in the world do you decide what to watch? Between the 200+ stations that come in on our cable or satellite devices or the multitude of streaming services that now provide original programming, it becomes virtually impossible to settle on something specific. In psychology, this is known as “the tyranny of choice.”
Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory and social action in the department of psychology at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, wrote an article about this in Scientific American in April of 2004. I was excited to see in his article the incorporation of one of the most basic economic principles many of our current first-year business students are learning in Introduction to Microeconomics. The concept of opportunity cost. Defined simply as, “what we give up to get something else.” In discussing how people make choices in their lives, Schwartz writes, “If we assume that opportunity costs reduce the overall desirability of the most preferred choice, then the more alternatives there are, the deeper our sense of loss will be and the less satisfaction we will derive from our ultimate decision.”
Now, let’s bring this back to the TV dilemma to which I was referring. My wife makes fun of me because I literally want to watch everything. It’s virtually impossible to try to figure out what to watch at any given time. One of the funniest things I experience, whenever I go to my in-laws’ house, is when my mother-in-law asks, “What do you guys want to watch?” I always respond with, “The answer is what do YOU want to watch?” Because inevitably we are likely not to agree and I’m willing to watch anything. Except horror movies. I hate those. Which, of course, she loves
So how do you decide? Some of my favorite shows are actually what they would call in Great Britain, “chat shows.” You know, shows where people just talk to each other. Speaking of Seinfeld, he has a show on Netflix now which was originally a web series called “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” I love cars, coffee, and comedians, so this has become one of my new favorites. I also like it because it involves one of my other favorite things to do in the world and that is to simply have a conversation with someone.
I don’t mean small talk. I hate small talk. I’m a terrible guest at parties because I can’t stand sitting around and talking about trivial topics. What I do love is getting to know people. Having deep conversations about their history and their worldview. Unfortunately, in today’s society we rarely have civil discourse. It seems we have an overwhelming need to broadcast our opinions to the world, take it or leave it! But wait, that’s me getting serious again and I wanted to avoid that this week.
One of the funniest shows I’ve seen in the past week is a new show on FOX called “The Cool Kids.” It’s about a group of old folks in a retirement community whose lives are centered on who gets to sit at the best table in the dining area. You know the table where all “the cool kids” sit. It features some of the finest comedic, albeit geriatric, actors ever on television and is produced by Charlie Day of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” fame. It reminds of a very popular show from the 1980s called “The Golden Girls.” This is how you now you’re getting old, when a show about a bunch of old people in a retirement home makes you laugh so hard.
Anyways, with Fall Break coming up next week, I hope you get the chance to take a break and get some rest and maybe get caught up on some of those shows you just can’t wait to watch again and, if you’re lucky, have a deep conversation with someone for a change.