Lazy Afternoon Reruns: “The Anxiety of Too Many Choices”

At the end of last year, I felt like I had an overzealous announcer from a cheap TV commercial inside my head, shouting, Everything must go! I had reached a saturation point— a mental one.

Over the last few years, the crazy number of choices provided by the internet and digital media distribution had caused me to build up a seemingly interminable self-assigned “reading list.” Every time I’d see a book I’d like to read, I put it in my Amazon Wish List. If I’d see a movie I’d like to watch— in my Netflix queue!  When I browsed the cable guide, I took full advantage of the DVR’s ability to save every movie on Turner Classic that sounded interesting.

This compulsive hoarding of intended acculturation had also been urged forward by two well-meaning friends: one, my retired next-door neighbor who leaves his weekly Sunday New York Times on my porch when he’s done with it; and the other, a friend who makes a periodic donation of eight or ten weeks worth of New Yorkers, intended for my classroom. Among my ordinary duties as a husband, father, and teacher, I felt like I needed to read them all. (I couldn’t teach an article I hadn’t read, so even reading The New Yorker had become “working.”) Those print publications were stacking up, too.

It may seem pretty harmless, what I just described, but as a person who is driven by a sense of responsibility and by intellectual curiosity, my anxieties had been growing. At any given time, no matter how much I read or watched, I still had thirty or more movies saved on Netflix, a dozen more waiting in the DVR’s Recorded list, five or six dozen books wish-listed on Amazon, a foot-tall stack of Sunday TimesTimes Magazines, and New Yorkers reminding me that I was behind . . . The Times’ weekly Book Review and Arts & Leisure sections, where I found a lot of this fodder, were going to be the death of me!

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