Is Anything An “Experience” When Everything Is?

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Maybe it’s because after countless pre-election late nights I slept in this weekend and missed the announcement, but when did everything become an “experience?”

I read something the other day about the growing length and complexity of restaurant menus. A half dozen chefs used “dining experience” to describe what, to me, always has been simply “going out to eat.” I guess when you have a “dining experience,” it costs more than if you’re just going for dinner with friends. Certainly, the tip is going to be larger so the waiter will enjoy a better “gratuity experience.”

Then I began noticing how frequently the word shows up in new places, describing things in ways that never would occur to me.

A movie critic wrote about a “film-going experience” he’d had; he probably thought that sounded a lot more authoritative and grand than simply saying “I went to a movie.” Ordinary proles go to movies, but the film critic sitting two rows behind me is having an “experience” watching the same lousy flick while we each eat overpriced popcorn.

Suddenly, experiences are everywhere.

Shopping Experiences
In a newspaper article about a retail chain that just remodelled all of its stores, an executive explained that the company spent several million dollars because it wanted to “enhance the shopping experience” for customers. The CEO of an airline was on a newscast last night talking about steps his company was adding to “the flying experience” of its passengers. I’ve bought stuff on eBay, which thoughtfully reminds me whenever I log in just how much fun the “eBay experience” can be. I received an e-mail this morning from a book store telling me that it is dedicated to making my “reading experience” more pleasurable and meaningful.

Apparently, it’s not enough just to buy a new book to read: I must have a “reading experience.” If I like the book and offer it to a friend, am I inviting them to have their own “reading experience”? But if I don’t like the book and toss it out halfway through, did I have a “bad reading experience” or did it morph into a “recycling experience”?

Maybe because of the Internet, cable channels by the hundreds, and on-demand everything including acquaintances who know each other only through chat rooms, we have to label anything an experience because nothing is a genuine experience anymore. It represents a kind of “language creep” where glossed-up words and phrases are used to make the mundane seem meaningful.

This may also explain another word that I’ve seen used a lot lately: “Community.” I’ve always thought of a “community” as the neighbourhood where I live but it seems I’m being too parochial. If you look carefully, you discover that every human activity has created its own “community.”

Everybody’s Own Community
Not long ago, a friend was leaving her job at Second City and moving to New York. She told me that she while she was looking forward to living in Manhattan, she would miss the “comedy community.” The what? Where is the comedy community? Is it part of a hip, downtown loft district or somewhere out in the vast, sprawling reaches of the suburban area codes? Are all of her neighbors funny? Some of mine are a bit dour, so I might want to move to the comedy community if I could just find it on a map.

No one has a job or career anymore, merely working at a company: They belong to a “community.”

A lawyer friend speaks of being in the “legal community.” A gallery owner talked about the “artist community” on Bravo! a few weeks ago. Friends who blog write about the “progressive community.” I’ve heard other people refer to the “writer’s community,” a “high tech community,” the “entertainment community” – which, by the way, is so large it has subdivisions like the “movie community” and the “music community” – and so on.

When the city where I live was hiring for a new police chief, a member of the search committee told a reporter the choice would be someone who’d mesh well with the “police community.” I gave a speech recently to a group that described itself as part of the “advertising community.” Silly me. I walked into the room thinking I was going to address a group of ad agency executives.

What’s next? A “cross-community community’s experience?”

What is it like to be part of these “communities”? Do members invite each other over to help paint the porch? May people from one community date people from another? Do they have special soccer teams for their kids? Could I address mail to somebody by just putting their name and “Wretched Community” on the letter? Do they have special clothes to wear or rules to follow?

charley-james.jpgI wonder if I am part of a “community” and don’t know it. I certainly would never knowingly join a “community;” it sounds much too post-modern. I’m content just being part of the “community experience” where I live, even with a few dour neighbours.

Charley James
The Progressive Curmudgeon

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