There are some fundamental assumptions in just about every Western industrialized nation, Swarthmore College psychologist Dr. Barry Schwartz, argues:
(1) Freedom is endemic to the human condition…that it is inherently good to have.
(2) Providing more choices is a way to maximize freedom. It is a form of liberation.
(3) If freedom is maximized, individuals will make better choices and enhance their well-being.
Dr. Schwartz presents compelling evidence that these fundamental assumptions are wrong. He wrote a fascinating book on the subject entitled The Paradox of Choice. He also presented a summary of his findings at the 2005 Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) conference at Oxford.
Providing a vast array of choices typically results in 2 things, Dr. Schwartz states:
(1) We can’t decide – we are almost immobilized by the array of choices.
(2) We experience a form of “buyer’s remorse” – we regret the decisions we’ve made because we can imagine, with all of the choices available out there, that we could have picked a better option. So, paradoxically, we end up less satisfied with our choice than if we had had fewer options from which to choose.
Although Dr. Schwartz cites a great deal of research to support his claims, my own experiences certainly echo his findings. One that comes to mind is the opening of the flagship Whole Foods store here in Austin, Texas. I’ve lived in Austin for many years and the original Whole Foods store was very small and easy to navigate. Then they built a much larger one after they became successful. It was still relatively easy to purchase my groceries though and a pleasant experience. A few years ago, they built an enormous flagship store next to the old one. To me, this store overwhelms my senses. There are so many choices of rare, wholesome, and seemingly delicious foods from all parts of the globe that I can hardly decide. Organic? From Italy? Local? Cost? On sale? Never tried it? Nutritious? Gluten Free? When I do finally make my selections, I keep wondering whether I made the “right” choice. Ultimately, I’ve decided that I don’t like to shop at that Whole Foods for these very reasons.
Another major source of choice proliferation in the past couple decades is provided by technology. Think of how many choices are afforded among and between the following tech advances:
- The Internet
- Cell phones
But wait! Help is on the way! There’s an app for that! But which one do I choose, among the 100,000 and counting, that will make my life easier? More fulfilling? More productive? Generate more income? Make me happier?
We can now access virtually limitless amounts of data anytime, anywhere. We can work at all times, too! There’s no vacationing anymore, in a sense. We can always check our cells, our email, our Blackberries…we can always access information and be accessed ourselves. And we must decide – do we check our cell? Do we answer that email? Should we go ahead and catch up on a few things? Or play a game on our iPhones? Update our Facebook? Catch up on email?
So, let’s assume that you are now entertaining the idea that too many choices isn’t such a good thing after all. Now what? Stay tuned for my next post!