What Makes You Buy Something? ‘Unlimited’ Or ‘Curated’?
In the late 1980s, buffet meals at weddings started becoming mainstream in urban India. As a perma-hungry ten-year-old, I fell in love with this new format where you could load up your plate and then do it again. So much so that ignoring the angry stares of my parents, I used to ask “Buffet aahe na?” (Is there a buffet?) to anyone who came home with a wedding invitation. That memory recently came rushing back when faced with a choice between a buffet and an a la carte meal at a restaurant, I chose the latter.
That also got me thinking about how things had changed. Most of us in our forties and those beyond have grown up with a scarcity mindset. The realities of that era were epitomized by a Shashi Kapoor dialogue in the movie Deewar (1975) when he said “Ye duniya ek third class ka dibba ban gayi hai. Jagah bahut kam, musafir jyaada” (The world has become a third-class compartment. Very little space, too many passengers).
No wonder then that to the scarcity generation, the word ‘unlimited’ is still a marketing hook; be it talk-time, data, or a thali.
For most of us though, food habits have changed over time. The supercharged metabolism of teenage years has subsided but more importantly, when it comes to food, we are no longer operating in the scarcity mindset. In fact, we now pay attention to what we put in our mouths; some of us even take the effort of carefully balancing macro-nutrients in our diets. This is why despite the prospect of four starters and three desserts, I opted for the a la carte option.
We’ve Changed, As Have The Times
The scarcity environment that we grew up in has changed to one of abundance in many other aspects of life. We are surrounded by unending buffets of things to read, of shows to watch, or in general, of options to spend our waking hours. It’s a sign of times that tasting menus instead of buffets and book or long-read summary services like Blinkist and Finshots are all the rage.
Applying a la carte principles to all these facets can have the same result as careful eating; balanced nourishment. For instance, I rarely read on a whim, unless I am on a holiday or in a doctor’s waiting room. In fact, I try to avoid doing anything on a whim (to be sure, that’s still work-in-progress). My wife who believes in ‘take it as it comes’ approach to life strongly disagrees with this and that’s alright because she never suffers from irritation at the end of a wasted day. I do. Let’s say my risk aversion on that parameter is much higher than hers and that makes both our approaches rational.
Rabbit Holes Vs ‘Recommended Pigeon Holes’
I feel irritated and angry when I have to confess that the ‘day got away from me’ to someone who is expecting a mail or a message response from me. I feel irritated when I catch myself deep inside the rabbit holes of Instagram or Twitter and so I have tried to create hacks and guardrails to stop me from piling the plate high.
One hack that’s worked really well is ‘curation’. Most of my reading is now curated by a set of friends, newsletters, or publications whose tastes and quality I trust. This is never perfect but by a process of trial-and-error, I have reached an 80-90% hit ratio on this. I store all reading recommendations on Reading List in Safari and as far as possible, not let it accumulate beyond 20 pieces. I am sure there is a more efficient way of doing this but this works for me.
Using Notes on the phone is another useful trick. I have several pigeon holes in Notes; like ‘Recommended Stocks’, Recommended Books, ‘Recommended Audio-Visual’ (for Ted Talks, podcasts, YouTube videos, etc.), and so on for recommendations that I have picked up in conversations or on my own.
Over time, you will form the habit of channeling your idle minutes and hours towards these ‘recommended’ pigeon-holes.
Another benefit of this system is that if you like what you read or saw, you can thank the person who recommended it. A genuine thank you or hat tip acts as a great incentive for that person to send more good stuff your way.
Choosing What You Consume
Just as choosing what to consume is important, so is knowing what not to. When I joined Twitter, I cast my net wide for handles to follow. Just as you would sample a lot of dishes in a tasting menu, I liberally follow handles but periodically prune the list. If you prune well, you don't have to prune often and over time you arrive at an acceptable equilibrium of largely getting only what you want and at the same time, ensuring that you don’t miss out on stuff you want to see.
In April 2021, Netflix introduced the devilishly cunning ‘Play Something’ button on its Home menu; one that I have avoided clicking thus far. Most times, before firing up the app, I have pre-decided what I am going there for. I know Reed and his team have laid out a great buffet, but I will stick to a-la-carte.
Swanand Kelkar is an investor and former Managing Director at Morgan Stanley. Views are personal.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.