For a period of time in the late '70s and early '80s, I watched I Dream of Jeannie reruns every afternoon in the empty time between school and supper. It was 24 minutes of zany fun, as ancient Middle Eastern lore met the U.S. space program. But I always felt a little deflated when the closing theme came on, since it meant that I had to wait an entire day for the next episode. Impatient, I fantasized about lounging on silky pillows, like the ones in Jeannie's bottle-home, in front of a television that magically played one episode after another of my favorite shows.

Decades later, my wish came true, thanks to the modern sorcery of technology. On-demand viewing and an endless supply of content now allow us to summon exactly the entertainment we want, when we want it. My own kids happily binge-watch Fresh Off The Boat, just as I dreamt of doing with Jeannie.

Alas, technologies designed to make our lives more fun have a darker side, and no one knows this better than parents. The more kids can access precisely what they want on a screen, the more they stay tethered to their devices instead of doing something active or creative. And lately I've been thinking about a subtler drawback of our just-for-you world. My kids miss out on all the things that are not just for them.

Let me explain by going back to tweenage me after a Jeannie episode ended. Dinner wasn't yet ready. I was comfortably sprawled in front of the TV, but all the shows I liked had ended. So I was stuck watching the 5 o'clock news. I learned about the Soviets in Afghanistan, whether the employment rate was up or down, and how our Detroit Tigers were doing.

Looking back, some of my more memorable discoveries as a child came about only because I didn't have access to entertainment that I would have preferred.

Each summer we would spend a month with my grandparents on their Missouri farm. In those days, nobody toted their own music around with them, so my siblings and I blew the dust off my uncle's teenage collection of 45s in the attic. We whiled away long afternoons listening to A and B sides of oldies that we eventually grew to love: the Beach Boys, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, The Royal Guardsman.

It was the same with reading material. When we would visit our great-aunts and uncles, my siblings and I didn't have tablets to keep ourselves occupied while the adults chatted. So we would read whatever we could find. At Auntie Ann's house, it was Catholic Digest (I always turned to the jokes first) and U.S. News & World Report. I looked forward to Sunday afternoons at Aunt Rose's so that I could catch up on aliens, Hollywood stars, and their occasional intersection in the National Enquirer and Weekly World News.

And at home, I read Time magazine. The church bulletin. The Detroit News. Why? For the same reason I watched the news after Jeannie. Because these things — none of which were aimed at my demographic or tastes — were all that was on offer.

That is a situation my kids rarely find themselves in. No matter where they are, they can find what they want on YouTube, Apple Music, Netflix. They seldom watch, listen to, or read anything they didn't select themselves — or that wasn't suggested by an anxious-to-please algorithm.

Our cultural lives have become increasingly bespoke. Tech companies and content purveyors are finding ways to optimize our experiences (and their sales) through customization. Recommended for you. People also bought. People like you read. You might like. Often we do like. But these clever algorithms move us only incrementally from where we started.

As a child I discovered the odd and charming Bogwoppit by Ursula Moray Williams because it was next to Wilder on the library shelf, as in Laura Ingalls. Amazon would have recommended other old-fashioned, prairie-kid books, but Dewey's content-blind system gave me British fantasy instead. I was hooked.

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