A New York University professor calls it the “paradox of abundance.” I call it the Memoirs of a Geisha effect. It’s the phenomenon, documented in today’s Wall Street Journal, of ordering movies that you were never dying to watch from Netflix and then letting the DVDs sit there in their little red envelopes for weeks on end while you find new excuses not to play them. Finally, slightly ashamed of yourself, you seal them back up and return them to Netflix, unwatched. It’s happened to me many times, twice with Memoirs of a Geisha.
I think it may also make for a small but worthy footnote to Chris Anderson’s Long Tail book. How many long tail offerings do we order (because it’s so freaking easy) and then never end up reading or watching or listening to? My guess is that it might be a fairly high percentage. Among other things, the long tail gives us the illusion that our tastes are more catholic than they actually are. Which explains that small sense of shame that springs up every time we return a DVD unwatched: It’s an admission of failure, a confession that our cultural orbit is a bit more circumscribed than we had imagined it.