By J.D. ECARMA
A scene in season 2 of Netflix’s “Master of None” sums up the American dream: being able to buy travel-sized shampoo and Vaseline.
In the second season of Aziz Ansari’s semi-autobiographical Netflix comedy, a character named Francesca visits New York City from her hometown in Italy. A highlight of her trip isn’t the Empire State Building or even the closest bagel shop, but a visit to the nearest drug store. She loves the American pharmacy because she has never seen so many options anywhere else. Francesca runs from shelf to shelf, gushing over the array of choices, nearly anything you could possibly need. Americans can even buy tiny travel-sized versions of many of those options in case the full size isn’t what they want.
In real life, actress Alessandra Mastronardi had a similar experience as a 19-year-old the first time she came to New York.
“It is an amazing culture shock when you first arrive in New York,” she told Elle Magazine. “And it's true, you have so many choices in a supermarket or in a pharmacy. Even just to buy water—you guys have so many different types of water. It's really confusing. You have to choose, you always have to choose. But it's an amazing experience.”
In the pharmacy scene, Francesca delights in the very spectrum of choices that socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders called oppression in 2016. Sanders once decried “a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants when children are hungry in this country," as if America’s largesse of options is somehow responsible for poverty.
The ironic thing was that the voters who supported Sanders in droves were millennials—a generation famously or infamously characterized by living with and expecting more choices than any generation has ever had before. Today, our choices go far beyond “which drug store product should I spend money on?” What TV show or movie do we want to instantly stream on Netflix? Which sharing economy service do we want to hire to fulfill a need? How quickly do we want that package from Amazon to arrive? Which social media platform is best for sharing my movie/Uber/Amazon decision with the world?
Millennials are accustomed to have these desires met in quick and convenient fashion, something socialists like Sanders and grumpy baby boomers both complain about. Sanders dislikes the capitalist system (granted, a lot of millennials purport to want socialism as well, but let’s overlook that for a moment), while older generations tend to decry the lazy, spoiled “youths” with their Netflix and Snapchats and Ubers.
I honestly don’t understand how Sanders and other anti-capitalist voices can demand big-government health care, higher taxes and more regulation when we can see socialism play out before our eyes in starving Venezuela. I don’t even know how to argue with those people because their arguments make no sense to me. But I can do my best to explain to Gen X-ers and baby boomers that what they see as greed or laziness among millennials is actually defining an incredible time to be alive.
Before electricity and the modern stove and the Kitchen-Aid, people (usually women) could spend most of their day just preparing and cooking food in order to survive. Each new modern convenience revolutionized this process until basic cooking became the simple, painless process it is today. I believe that the age of Facebook, Uber, Amazon Prime, grocery pickup and delivery and many other incredible conveniences made possible thanks to technology constitute a similar revolution that is too often written off as laziness.
Are people really too lazy to go to a movie theater, and that’s why we stream something on Netflix instead? Part of it is convenience, true, but it’s also a huge money-saver. If you’re a millennial around my age, the economy has never been good. The housing market crash was right before I was a freshman in college, and the country was still dealing with the recession when I was ready to look for a job. When you’re still living more hand to mouth than you’d like, $15.69 is just too much to pay for a movie ticket (Disclaimer: I live in very expensive Northern Virginia right outside the Beltway). But for $7.99 a month, I can have access to millions of dollars’ worth of entertainment at my fingertips. When has that ever been possible before?
A resource that is equally precious is time. I love spending time in libraries, but lately I’ve been reserving books in my library’s digital resources and downloading them onto my Kindle. I don’t need to make the trip to and from the library to get free books, and I don’t risk late fines. That’s not only a nice money-saver (you don’t want to know how much a simple metro trip costs) but it’s also a saving on time out of my day that could be used for other things. The same goes for buying something on Amazon instead of going to the physical store. I’ve been frustrated enough times going into a brick-and-mortar location and not finding what I need that it seems wiser just to buy online if possible.
As an intern in D.C. several years ago, I remember spending cumulative hours, probably days, waiting for the metro and the bus to get where I needed to go. The age of Uber and Lyft is a huge time-saver now; back then, I would simply be stranded.
In another example of convenience that might sound like laziness at first, grocery delivery and store pickup have been expanding as options with services like Walmart Grocery Pickup and Amazon Fresh. Some services involve stores collecting items for you and having them ready for pickup, while others bring groceries straight to your house. A friend of mine lives with chronic pain through her arms and shoulders, meaning that she sometimes can’t even pick up everyday objects around the house. It’s a huge help to her to be able to order items ahead of time and go to the store to pick them up. Conveniences like grocery pickup and online orders are life-changing for people who struggle with ordinary errands because of chronic pain, disabilities or other physical burdens.
As much as I try to spend my time wisely now, I’m sure it will become a far more precious resource if and when I have kids. I think it’s incredible that we live in a time when so many necessities can be purchased instantly and arrive quickly from Amazon; when we never get stuck anywhere as long as we have a smartphone; and when I can communicate remotely with my work team through Slack and earn a living from my apartment. Ultimately, it shouldn’t be about laziness—these conveniences give people more time for the things that matter.
2017 is hard in many ways. But I also believe that we as Americans are incredibly fortunate to live in such a magical, never-before-seen era of choices. We should all be as excited as Francesca in “Master of None,” gushing in a New York pharmacy over tiny, travel-sized Vaseline that comes in multiple flavors.