Sunday, April 23, 2017

4/23/17: The Hidden Value of Genericism

Tonight, something different: a word on genericism,  and an odd, hidden benefit it possesses.

I've been traveling again, but, again, I've been nowhere new, or especially special, however much I've yoga'd there (and none of my destinations have been spared my yoga'ing, to be sure). Though, it's through this mundane, routine quality to my excursions that I've discovered something both unexpected and wonderful: the value of the United States' increasingly generic landscape.

In a nut, there are things to be learned from repeated exposure to outwardly identical places (and, similarly, people, and about anything else, I suppose). In particular, my adventures in such "genericized" environments have revealed to me what I do (or don't) like about any space.

Bear with me.

It's a matter of contrasts, as it were. Why is it that I liked that one Starbucks back in Charleston, while that one up in Charlotte was a total turn-off, despite being nearly identical in every respect? Well, there are the obvious variables -- the people present, the time of day, my mood and perceptions at the time, plus a million other chance factors. But, what about the times when, all things being more or less equal, I just ... liked that first one, for no reason I could readily put my finger on. Both were Starbuckses, with a standardized menu and decoration and general experience ... yet, they were different, and in a subtle-yet-significant way -- significant enough to sour me to one and endear me to the other.

And that's when we come to the heart of the matter: the highlighting of contrasts, an unintended side-effect of such standardized, Strip-Mall-America genericism. In the case cited above, of two almost-identical coffee shops in different geographical locations, I was allowed to see what I didn't like, due to experiencing a similar setting in a totally different physical environment -- visiting a Starbucks that wasn't a Starbucks, you could say. Here, the contrast was provided by the franchise's attempt to inject the good-and-appealing into multiple, separate locations, which, in retrospect, worked to isolate what was so enjoyable at the one Starbucks -- and, conversely, so repellent at the other. (And just what was that elusive contrast? Well, that's a whole other blog post, about psychology and architecture and the subtle, energetic qualities of space; but, as far as this post is concerned, the factor of the matter is, just, that the contrast was there.)

The point? That by traveling to such same-but-different places, the revealed contrasts can teach much to the traveler (and, in a broader sense, that there's value to any experience, however hidden or indirect).

Now, as for why you should care about this phenomenon? Well, I never said you should care about it, for the record. But, since you've read this far, I suppose you're entitled to some kind of takeaway, which would be this: that my "going to the same, uninspired places" brand of travel can be fulfilling, and in novel and surprising ways. And, for what it's worth, it bears mentioning that incidents of the particular sort cited above, involving the proliferation of cardboard-cutout franchises and their corporate parents, have been beneficial for me personally, helping me to find some good in these ubiquitous (and, sometimes, troublesome) non-entities. In my case, it's not a fully redeeming quality, exactly, but such benefit has gone a long way towards healing my somewhat rocky relationship with the corporate world and its controversial offspring.

Cool, eh?