7.29.2007

Make the Whole Greater Than the Sum of its Parts

You may have heard this argument before: fans root for their fantasy players instead of teams; music lovers download singles off of iTunes instead of buying whole albums; and Christians cobble together a spiritual experience by attending service at one church, going to a Bible study at a second, and sending their kids to youth group at a third.  And the argument usually ends with: shame on these people for buying into this age's me-first consumerism.

I'm not here to absolve people from devaluing the whole for the sum of the parts they like.  But I think some burden needs to fall on the "providers" of these "goods" as well.  After all, I'm a firm believer in freedom of choice, in the good there is in having lots of choices, and in the good things that happen when competition for "customers" pushes "providers" to do better. 

The solution, then, doesn't seem to be to shame people out of their individualistic decision-making, to guilt them into settling for wholes that are less than the sum of the parts.  Rather, providers need to get the word out that the whole is in fact worth buying into, rather than picking through for the parts you like.  Sports teams can take on a persona that is greater than any of the players that come and go, bands can organize their albums such that you really need to listen to the whole thing through instead of throwing together disparate tracks, and churches can communicate to the congregants that greater than specific resources is the experience of being part of a living and breathing body.

Again, some responsibility must be taken by the "consumers," to take the time to see the good in the whole instead of just shopping around for the parts that are most interesting.  But some responsibility must also be taken by the "providers," to make their wholes worth buying into as a whole. 
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