The world has too many options for one brain to handle. The endless scroll of Netflix, the entirety of Apple Music, and the rest of the internet can be so daunting that it’s a miracle anyone makes it beyond the first page of Google results. This is why “curation” has gone from one of those jokey new-economy jobs to a legit service. In a world of never-ending fabric, the tailors are king.
Nowhere is this more acute than in New York, which is sorta the IRL internet. When I moved to New York City, in the cool early part of summertime, each block was — and I guess still is — full of new places, free to discover on foot. Each train ride put me in a neighborhood where I looked at street signs with the intensity of a lost child. Right and wrong turns revealed themselves only gradually; cardinal directions became a scramble, and I’m not sure I’ve ever locked down North and South, or East and West, on these tilted islands. There was, and still remains, something a bit thrilling about that unknown, where even a “bad” experience can still feel fulfilling, because it’s an experience.
Yelp purports to make sense of the overwhelming buffet of choices. The site devoted to reviews of businesses (and some less savory settings) lets your fingers do the wandering. It helps people avoid a sub-par restaurant or bar, and, in its ideal form, cuts the stress of seeing an endless row of restaurants and not being sure where to go. You’ve used Yelp, probably to improve your odds of picking the right place to eat, the best place for a drink — or at least avoiding the wrong choice amid the crowd. But part of the experience comes in tempting fate, every time we make a choice on the fly.
In a group of people, I’m rarely the person to take charge of a decision. Often I defer to collective indifference, accepting that no one will hate or thus also not love whatever is chosen. A shoulder shrug can feel productive on some days, even if it’s nothing to be proud of. One way around the paradox of choice is often to skate along and accept what comes your way.
Not too long after moving I was with a friend and we just got off the train, and he immediately brought out his cell phone to see what were any good places to grab food. We got some food, it was fine, the conversation was good, but there was a small part of me that felt a twinge of annoyance. We could have explored. This is what a shrug gets you when strangers on Yelp have already programmed your choices for you.
A couple of weeks after moving to the city I was with a couple and I mentioned that I still took the train back home even if it was 3 or 4 in the morning. And they laughed, nodding that when they’d first moved they’d do the same, but after a while just hailing that cab is worth the money for the time and ease of mind. That is where I remain willing to walk and wait, taking advantage of the freedom of choice.