These days, we can supposedly live a full life by exposing ourselves only to things we want to see or hear.

For example, we can pay for 24/7 satellite radio service – cutting out advertisements, dopey DJ jokes and news – and listen to one genre of music or programming to the exclusion of everything else.

We can buy a magazine (2.6 million people already do) that presents only what Oprah wants us to think.

We can watch a TV channel devoted solely to golf. Or shopping. Or weather.

We’re no longer just “Boomers,” “Gen-Xers” or “Millenials.” Instead, the world has become one big collection of niches, and the Internet is the biggest enabler.

But what if the day comes when we don’t have a particular niche in mind? What if we don’t want to self-edit what we’ll be reading or listening to even before we start?

Having found myself in just this situation recently, I did something the experts say is rare these days: I picked up the Sunday New York Times newspaper, lugged it to my chair, turned off the TV, and spent the next couple of hours reading it, page by page by page.

And without a predetermined destination or niche to guide me, here’s where I wound up…

• I read a story about “Kids Gone Wild” that chronicled parents so absorbed in their kids’ lives that the kids – metaphorically almost unable to breathe without their parents performing CPR – have turned into rude, insolent brats. So is it the kids who are screwed up, I wondered, or the parents?
• An ethical dilemma: A man is visited by his long-estranged sister, who tells him she has cirrhosis and needs a portion of his liver to survive. “I do not want to mutilate my body for someone with no respect for hers,” the guy reasons. Still, she’s his sister … What do you think: Should he help her?
• A Harvard professor theorizes in a book that “during times of growth, societies tend to liberalize; during times of stagnation, they veer toward authoritarianism.” Fact of fiction? The author ultimately isn’t worried that “we’ll run out of petroleum, trees or living space; he’s worried that we’ll run out of growth.” Sort of makes you think, doesn’t it?
• I didn’t know the phrase “Stepin Fetchit” originated in the 1920s with a black actor named Lincoln Perry, who became a rich man playing a slow man and then, as you might expect, was excoriated later in life for turning a stereotype into cash.

And these are just a few of the morsels of information I ran across that day.

Could I have found any of this on the Internet? Certainly. Would I normally have looked for it? Doubtful. Should I be interested in stepping out of my niche from time to time? I hope so.

But these days, I’d be confounding the experts if I did it very often.


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