Monday, 6 June 2011

Nothing's that amazing so no, we're not ecstatic.

Charlie Brooker's right; it is incredibly petulant of us all to complain about something excellent and free suddenly becoming a little less excellent. Louis C.K. is also right; we do have a tendency to complain about tiny insignificant aspects of a process which is, by the standards of previous generations, mind-blowingly awesome. Like air travel, for example:

Flying is the worst one because people come back from flights and they tell you their story. And it's like a horror story. [...] First of all we didn't board for twenty minutes. And then we get on the plane and they made us sit there. On the runway. For forty minutes. We had to sit there.
Oh really, what happened next, did you fly through the air, incredibly, like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle that is human flight, you non-contributing zero?

Valid point. But we didn't get this spoiled all by ourselves. We don't expect stuff to be perfect just because it's for us, we also have its providers constantly screeching at us about how life-changing an experience we're going to have just taking it out of the packaging.

Brooker's Guardian piece centred around complaints that Spotify, as a free service, now limits you to a maximum of ten hours' listening a month. The next level up is £5 for unlimited, advert-free listening. Both of these options are much better than any way of getting hold of music that existed before it all became noise anyway*. But I can still understand why people are annoyed with Spotify, because I am too. Around 50% of the adverts - unmutable and significantly louder than the music - are for their own services. Don't have a smart phone? No matter, you'll still be told every ten minutes how much better the Spotify experience would be if you did. Synced the playlists on your computer already? That hip, young, friendly voice will still keep telling you what a swell idea it'd be to do so, right in the middle of you listening to one of them. Because nobody's allowed to be happy with a basic free thing any more, we have to be constantly told how much better it can get.

Yoghurts. I'm struggling to find a variety of yoghurt that claims to only feed me, without reconfiguring my digestive or immune systems too. I don't want a fabric softener that makes strangers want to smell me or causes giant flowers to follow me to the shops. If I drove, I think I'd want something mostly like a car, not like a panther or a grand piano.

We've developed this slow-burning, unfocused feeling of dissatisfaction and annoyance because we know that we're constantly being lied to by companies pushing their largely unremarkable tat. Yes, it's pretty damn fantastic that little old me can fly through the air and be in another country in less than an hour. I will never lose my sense of wonder at looking down on a cloud from above. But I will still be annoyed if you claim that making me print my own boarding card somehow benefits me, and if the plane's filthy but you still keep badgering me to make sure I've not left any rubbish behind. And incidentally, where's the smiling, flirting cabin crew your advert featured so prominently?

Advertisers have trained us to be both spoiled and cynical. We may often choose the wrong targets for our complaints, but there's only so many sky-high expectations we can suppress at once. I've just about got the toiletries side of things under control. I can accept that foundation does not need to be breathable, that there is no DNA in skin cream but nor would it be better if there was, and that no camomile-scented, precision-engineered plastic backed wad of tissue will make me "have a happy period". But something's always going to give, so I'll be disappointed when a posh chocolate fails to make the room go all swirly, no matter how thankful I am that chocolate was invented at all.

*Roughly around the time Beethoven started to lose his hearing.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

A long-overdue follow-up my post back in April about David Cameron's utterly infuriating immigration speech. This one's over on my history blog because it includes a quote from the olden days and a picture of Frederick the Great.