I just watched an hour long Discovery show about small doughnut shops around America: the so-called ‘best’. They weren’t giant corporations of course, but small shops, run by brothers, or families, or friends… handed down through generations. They loved the community around them, and the people that came in were mostly regulars – they cared for the place, were comfortable with the other people there, and some even helped out when needed. These aren’t tiny operations either. They’ve got machines in the back, working to produce dozens of types, by fairly large quanities, serving hundreds of customers a day. So let me take both giant chains, and really tiny one-man operations off the table.
Entrepreneurship in India is apparently taking off in a big way. I see the term thrown around a lot more often, and actually, I’ve seen friends who started things I think deserve applause: Alma Mater, Chumbak, Nathniel School, Hyper Monkey, Hole in The Wall come to mind–there are many, many more. And the big difference I see, is they were started by people who had an idea they cared about. Not one that would make them money. Not one that’s an ‘exciting new area’. Not one with an established market. Just one they cared enough to fight for.
On the other side, we’re also being hit with the very American culture of chain restaurants and stores: the Taco Bells, Fitness Firsts and Spencers of the world. It’s not even only cheap consumer goods, think California Pizza Kitchen, or Habanero, malls with 20 lane bowling alleys and a dozen movie screens amidst some of the most expensive brands in the country. Personality and preference have given way to mass production and modular construction to provide the illusion of choice. TGIF won’t even ask you how you’d like your steak; and not in a good way. And like orange juice, people are increasingly thinking it completely normal for things to taste identical everywhere they go.
This unfortunately may sound old fashioned, but the epitome of perfection for me is not factory made consistency, it’s hand crafted excellence. That I will pay for. I don’t need a brand on my suit; but I want it stitched to my body so it sits perfectly. I don’t want to fly through a restaurant ordering by a number with sixteen optional sides; I want a meal that represents the person making it, that speaks of its history and tells a story. I don’t need a gym with 200 machines and operators instructing me into a preset pattern designed to target some muscle I’ve never heard of; I need a dedicated space and an expert who knows about me and understands the human body.
I haven’t even jumped into music and movies, mostly because pop-dance and light-hearted action make the world go round. But the tendency is spreading. The movies and music that we consume, even books and art, architecture and handicrafts… none of them are human expression anymore. They are targeted at a market; designed for sale. And although that is an incredibly efficient investment, it does nothing to benefit the future.
Humans need to explore and grow. It’s what has got us this far. And if everything around us is made to suit our tastes now, we will never experience the new, be inspired to adapt, evolve and create our very own stories. In an effort to produce an easily palatable present, we are forgetting our legacy will be the future.