Thursday, October 23, 2014

The agony of choice

From eating and dating to music and film, everything is about sharing nowadays. Maybe it always was, but now the sharing concept is shoved in our faces like we never realised it before. Popcorn! Great for sharing! Doritos! Great for sharing too! Picture frames! Great for sharing precious memories! The internet: all about sharing – music, photos, films, sex, unwanted opinions. There is now such a gluttony of choice. And crap. And we're meant to share it. And Like It.

I've always suffered from a crippling lack of decision making. Even a restaurant menu sends me into palpitations of procrastinations. Then I end up ordering the wrong thing – but whatever I order I'll be disappointed with. Or I'll go into a clothes shop. I want a shirt. There's too many of them. I can't decide. I only want one. But a good one, a quality one. The more choice there is seems inversely proportionate to the quality of the product. We don't need all this choice; we just need a good one of everything: partner, food, wine, film, album, shirt. Choice confuses me, stresses me out.

It's like with chocolate bars. The Kit Kat survived a thousand years with just one variety – erm, chocolate. Now there's about a dozen including orange, mint, dark, white, peanut butter and double caramel. In Japan, there have been over 200 varieties of Kit Kat – including soy sauce and ginger ale – since the year 2000.

The agony of choice seems magnified by a million on the internet. What film to watch, what person to date (with what website or app), what music to listen to, what brands to buy...

In his TED talk on the Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwrz cites his local supermarket having 175 varieties of salad dressings – is this really necessary? With so much choice on offer, we are bound to be dissatisfied with the choice we make – surely we could have made a better choice? A perfect one? We regret the choice we made and it's easy to imagine a better one. When there's more choice there are higher expectations but the end result is disappointment and low satisfaction. Schwrz argues that too much choice can induce paralysis and cause depression and even suicide (though suicide is a permanent choice to a temporary problem).

Do a decision detox if the agony of choice rings bells with you too.

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