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Is Anything An “Experience” When Everything Is?

experience, community, lifestyle,

We don’t just read books anymore, we have “reading experiences.” By Charley James

Maybe it’s because I slept late this weekend and missed the announcement, but when did everything become an “experience?”

I read something the other day that examined the growing length and complexity of restaurant menus. A half dozen restaurateurs and chefs used the words “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 to a restaurant for dinner with some friends. Certainly, the tip is going to be larger so the waiter is going to enjoy a better “gratuity experience.”

Then I began noticing how frequently the word shows up where it never has appeared before, 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.

In an article about a retail chain that had 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 made some purchases 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 anymore just to buy a new book to read, I must have a “reading experience.” If I like the book and offer it to a neighbour, I guess I’m 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 in the hundreds, and on-demand everything including acquaintances who know each other only through chat rooms and e-mail, 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 too parochial. If you look carefully, you discover that every human activity has created its own “community.”

Not long ago, a friend was leaving her job at Second City and moving to New York to work in public relations. 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 downtown or somewhere out in the vast, sprawling reaches of the 905 area code? Are all of the neighbours 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. 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 such as the “movie community,” the “music community” and so on. When Toronto was searching for a new police chief, a member of the Police Services Board 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 marketing group.

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 front porch? May people from one community mix socially with 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?

I 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 far more content being part of the “community experience” where I live, even if there are a few dour neighbours.
Published: 2008-03-18
Author: Charley James

About the author or the publisher
A former assistant editor of "Business Week" magazine, and a television news producer and reporter before that, Charley James began writing when he was about eight and hasn't stopped.

Now, he covers and writes news articles including his own independent investigative reporting, writes articles, websites and newsletters for clients, drafts speeches, creates and writes ad copy, and crafts humorous essays about things people encounter every day.

Charley has been published in many magazines.

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