Perfectly Satisfied

Excerpted from A Geography of Time by Robert V. Levine,  ©1997:

In the United States, today’s latest hit, by its nature, becomes tomorrow’s throwaway. Fred Turk, who was a colleague during my year in Brazil, is a U.S. citizen who has spent most of his adult life teaching in countries throughout South America. “I don’t know if I could ever return to the States,” he told me. “I’m always amazed by how alien I feel when I visit. It seems like every time I return people have totally cleared their shelves of yesterday’s fashions– not only in clothes, but in music and art and everything else. Even the language seems to change. I never know how to dress, what to talk about or even what words sound foolish. Sometimes, particularly with young people, I can’t even follow the conversation.”

Turk is describing the U.S. addiction to change that occurs over the time span of weeks and months. An even more dramatic craving for variety may be observed in moment-to-moment shifts. We see this, for example, in the shrinking attention span of television viewers. The popularization of remote control devices and multiple cable stations have produced a generation of what media analysts call “grazers.” Recent studies indicate that these viewers change stations as much as 22 times per minute, or once every 2.73 seconds.  They approach the airwaves as a vast smorgasbord, all of which must be sampled, no matter how meager the helpings. Compare these grazers to the traditional people of Indonesia, whose main entertainment consists of watching the same few plays and dances, month after month, year after year.  Each viewer knows every nuance of movement and each word of dialogue but are perfectly satisfied to return again and again.

I like repetition, myself.  When I lived alone, I ate the same things every day and was perfectly content.  I take a lot of satisfaction in re-reading old books, listening to old albums, seeing familiar birds at my feeder.  I don’t have a cell phone, and the only thing I watch on cable is baseball.

I was born American, but I identify as Traditional Indonesian.


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