I’ve always liked to think that the old saying ‘variety is the spice of life’ is a truth that we should hang onto. There is nothing worse than a routine that rules you, rather than you ruling the routine. While order and stability are very important ingredients for a peaceful life, every now and again you need a note of adventure, something different, a break or a change; even if it is only for a short while.

One of the world’s most famous men, and considered to be one of the most diversely talented people ever to have lived, Leonardo da Vinci, said that every now and then, no matter what you are doing, get up and walk away for a while and do something different. When you come back to your work you will have a fresh perspective on it. This may have been easier for Da Vinci given that the 16th century was perhaps a little slower moving than today’s noisy, busy world.














I believe he was also self employed which meant he probably didn’t have a boss breathing down his neck wondering why he was spending so much time at the coffee machine, outside having a cigarette or generally away from his desk. However, the message is still valid; it is good to take little breaks throughout the working day just to give the mind a rest.

Amount of variety

The problem we face in 2009 is the amount of variety that is open to us and while it certainly spices up the day, I often wonder if we are, in a sense, overwhelming the lovely natural taste of the meat with too many other powerful flavours. I suspect that we have so much variety these days that instead of becoming more rounded individuals with many interests, we are increasingly becoming singular in our pursuits and likes. I was chatting with someone the other day and they mentioned a television show that is apparently very good and quite popular. Not only had I not seen it but I’d never even heard of it or any of the people in it.

It made me realise that those moments where an entire country are watching the same programme at the same time are long gone. I remember the days when you would go into school on a Friday and the entire place had watched Top of the Pops the previous night. Everyone knew that Alexis and Crystal Carrington were characters from Dynasty and I can guarantee that a pop culture phenomenon like ‘Who Shot JR Ewing?’ will never, ever be seen again.

In the weekend newspapers there were plenty of column inches given over to the fact that Ryan Tubridy had lost some viewers from the Late Late Show since his first show a few weeks ago. They should be jumping up and down that he has any viewers at all. The days of an entire country switching on because Gay Byrne is talking about sex are over. Now we have whole shows and entire channels devoted to the subject. I think Ryan Tubridy is doing a fine job, but he is up against three hundred other channels and unless the guests (and their book!) have a mass appeal then we tend to move on.

TV on demand

Reading a recent television industry report it has emerged that globally television executives are facing real challenges. They have discovered that anyone under the age of seven in the western world is completely oblivious to the idea of television scheduling e.g. Bosco at 10am every Tuesday and Thursday or Sesame Street at 2.30pm on a Wednesday. Today children watch television on demand; box sets, DVDs, Sky boxes and other digital media and recorders have killed TV scheduling. I see it with my own nephew. He has DVDs of his favourite shows and they also have a few kept on the Sky box. Should he decide to watch ‘Ben 10’ or ‘Lazy Town’ at any time of the day it’s ready to go.

All media is facing similar challenges with formats becoming increasingly singular in their approach.

The word magazine comes from an old Arabic word for ‘store house’. When originally used in connection with writing it suggested a ‘store of information’. The idea was that it would be a periodical, containing miscellaneous pieces by different authors. The Readers Digest, Time Magazine and Ireland’s Own are probably good examples of being close to the original idea. Then magazines began to scale down and take into account individual pursuits; fashion, fishing, fitness, fetish.

Take a look at the size of the magazine racks anywhere and the diversity is astonishing, from Cross Dressers Monthly to the Toenail Clipping Weekly; there’s something for everyone. I often marvel at how they can devote an entire magazine (or several) to one narrow subject and do it monthly or sometimes weekly! They say that with the digital age where we now reside, this individualistic approach could be taken even further and they will soon be able to create magazines with just your chosen personal interests and deliver them online.

Loyalty cards

We already see a form of this ability with supermarket loyalty cards. The coupons that they send you with the cash back statement are usually appropriate. They are gleaning the information from your weekly shopping. If you buy sausages or wine every week you can be guaranteed a voucher for those items and so on. The next step is individual magazines catering only to your specific interests. Isn’t it ironic that because we have been exposed to so much variety, the choice has actually become overwhelming and so we now have to create self imposed limits on ourselves?

The danger I fear with this individualistic, anytime anywhere media approach is that the possibility of stumbling across new things or exposing ourselves to new ideas becomes slimmer and slimmer. If I only listen to the music that is on my own personal mp3 player or sign up to internet feeds for specific bands or only want to read music articles on bands I already know, then how will I ever hear a new song, learn about a new group or see a new sound emerging?

Is there a possibility I could get stuck in a rut and a time warp? If magazines are reduced to individual interests and become so narrow in their remit then how will I ever accidentally read about a new subject or get a different and possibly more interesting point of view than my own? And the real danger of all this variety is that some really good stuff gets lost in the noise. A television programme, a radio broadcast, a newspaper article, a talk, a theatre performance, a film, a poem, a song, whatever; can be the most wonderful creation, but if only a handful of people ever see or hear about it then it dies and many miss out on the benefits.

I’m not offering a solution as some people may not believe it to be a problem. For some this is just progress; an efficient chopping out of all the unnecessary stuff and cutting straight to the chase in our time poor environments. The concern is that we will box ourselves in to our own safe and well planned out worlds, inevitably ending up with no variety at all, when we have always known that variety, in balance, is the spice of life.