Limited Horizons

Several days ago, I wrote about the National Comedy Center and how I didn’t especially enjoy it. I’ve noticed a recent trend in conversations both on and offline that are reminiscent of the philosophy behind this museum.

The Comedy Center uses artificial intelligence to show visitors comedy they will find appealing based on their individual tastes. This is accomplished through a kiosk where visitors create a comedy ID by selecting the comics, actors, tv shows, movies, comic strips, etc. that the visitor enjoys.

Some of the choices seemed rather obscure to me. Some looked like things I might enjoy or want to learn about. Some of the older choices made me wonder how familiar the average guest is with their work. Would a young person enjoy Charlie Chaplin if they were exposed to his brand of entertainment? What trendy podcast might I enjoy if I ever heard it?

The point is that our tastes are developed based on what we believe is the best of what we already know. Unfortunately, we don’t know what we don’t know and, at a museum kiosk, may discount something we would enjoy because we aren’t familiar with it. This skews the formula used to entertain us.

Is this why I went to this museum? To see more of the same stuff I know I’ll like? I actually went hoping to expand my horizons and maybe find some new laughs rather than view a greatest hits of material already in my consciousness. The museum areas where I discovered new stuff were the ones where I didn’t scan my ID. Scanning that ID was a guarantee that I would be shown clips of things I already like.

Instead of expanding my horizons, it felt like this place limited mine.

It probably sounds like I’m picking on the Comedy Center and that’s not the intent. After all, it is a beautiful space with some great stuff and that embraces technology in a truly unique way. It would just be nice to see them help visitors embrace something new.

This isn’t the only place I’ve had these thoughts lately. I belong to a few book clubs on Facebook where I’m noticing a similar trend. Members will post requests for recommendations that are prefaced by a phrase like ” I only read historical fiction” or they only read a certain author or won’t read nonfiction at all. They read a book they liked and want to read another one just like it.

This always catches my eye because it’s so far removed from my own way of thinking. You bet I’ll obsess over the work of a single author if it’s good. However, I read a lot of other things too.

It’s wonderful to be passionate about something but life would be awfully dull if we just stuck with what we already know. Personally, I’m interested in most everything and don’t want to limit myself to just the comedians I already like or the books I’m sure will please.

Maybe I’m the weird one but it’s just such a big world out there – I can’t imagine not wanting to explore it.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear them!