On the grazing habits of the post-scarcity culture vulture

Paul Raven @ 29-04-2009

stacks of booksIn a world so full of entertainment choices that you could probably spend your entire life reading or listening or watching without ever having to repeat yourself, how do you choose what to enjoy next?

Favouring a single genre is one solution, of course, but even that’s a bit tricky nowadays, as pointed out by Jon Evans over at Tor.com. Just reading every science fiction novel published in a year would be quite a challenge if you wanted to hold down a job at the same time.

Evans thinks he’s identified two major coping strategies in our world of entertainment post-scarcity:

In my highly anecdotal experience, people tend to react to this overwhelming cornucopia in one of two ways: either they swear allegiance to one particular subfragment of genre, and deliberately steer clear of all else, or they try to sample a little bit of everything. I call this the buffet effect.

I used to be a specialist. Now I’m a sampler. Fifteen years ago, I felt like I had read most, if not all, of the good SF that had ever been published. Nowadays, I’m not sure that’s even possible; specialists have to focus on smaller subgenres, such as horror, or cyberpunk, or military SF.

As a sampler, I find myself reading one or two of an author’s books—and then moving on. I have read and really liked two Charles Stross novels, for instance, which once upon a time would have meant devouring everything he’s ever written. Instead I’ll have to overcome a certain reluctance to buy another book of his. I want to read them all, don’t get me wrong; but at the same time, I find myself subconsciously thinking of the “Charles Stross” box as already ticked, and wanting instead to try a brand-new dish from the endless buffet.

Interesting; I find myself kind of caught between the two states, personally, in that I go through brief periods of specialisation until I get distracted or derailed by some shiney new discovery, be it an author or style or subgenre; getting a commission to review a new title can provide an unexpected change of direction, too. [image by ginnerobot]

What about you – how do you decide what’s next in your to-be-read (or to-be-watched or listened-to) piles?