Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Dilemma of Choice

A video review I did for one of my classes that represent a distinct picture of how too many choices hinders us on so many levels than actually free us.

Berry Schartz on the paradox of choice / Video on

Barry Schwartz introduces himself as the author of a book called The Paradox of Choice. He starts out by examining us as Western Industrial Societies, who have what he calls an Official Dogma. An Official Dogma is summarized by explaining that to maximize the common good and welfare of our society is maximizing our freedom. Official Dogma also says to maximize freedom is to maximize choice. The more choice one has the more freedom one has, thus the more welfare and good one will then have by being allowed to make choices on one's own. This way of thinking is, in his opinion, so deeply ingrained in all of us, that we have never thought to question. Maybe the more choices we have, does not cause us to be more free, but choices do quite the opposite of liberation.

He gives precise examples of how choices don't necessarily benefit us, but hinder us on so many levels like; choices in a common grocery store, a consumer electronic store, communication, healthcare, identity, marriage and family, and work.

He configured that there are over a hundred and seventy five salad dressings in a local grocery store if you don't count the almost endless supply of extra olive oils and balsamic vinegars to make your own salad dressing if you cannot find the one that you want with the selection that is given.

He found that in a consumer electronic store there are 6.5 million stereo systems of components that are available for purchase in just one store.

He compares the availability of cellphone options when he was a boy to what is available today. Where there was only one place to get a phone, Bell, where you could not purchase but rent a phone. Where as today, there is almost an endless supply of cellphones, and their functions are overwhelming.

Healthcare no longer gives us the answers, but keeps us fishing for the right choice. To often the choice is left up to the individual instead of the doctor. This is called patient autonomy which means shifting of responsibilities. When the doctor is not willing to make the choice for the patient who is inherently impaired to do so, or doesn't know as much as the doctor does, the choice for patients can be difficult. Another side to healthcare that he examines is the choices of prescription drugs that are advertised to us. We can't even go to the store to pick them up, but we have to call our doctor first in order to have them change our prescriptions.

He's addressed that the question of our own identity has become something of an extreme choice. We feel we have to make a choice to reinvent ourselves no matter what that looks like.

The choice used to simply be, who are we going to marry. Having children was expected, and
now its all up to choice. When, where, who, or what.

The choices where to work and when to work have expanded dramatically. Communication technology allows us to work everywhere we go.

His diagnosis to what choices do to us is this; Choices have two negative effects on people, one effect produces paralysis other than liberation. Paralysis means, a state of helplessness, or an inability to act. It breaks down our ability to make the right choice and even makes it harder to choose at all based on how many choices there are. Paralysis is the consequence that we get in having to make so many choices. The second negative effect is if we somehow overcome paralysis and end up making a choice, we become dissatisfied with the choice and with our own capacity to make 'good' choices that we make. The more options there are its easier to second guess the choice or to be indecisive.

Opportunity costs subtract from the satisfaction that we get out of our choice, even if what we choose is a good choice. We miss out on what we are choosing now when we are focused on what we could have chosen. Having so many choices, lead us to believe that we can find the best of the best out of all the choices that are available to us. It makes us expect to find exactly what we are looking for with all that is available. When in fact, the expectation that we have only leaves us empty handed and disappointed in the end. When we have high expectations and we fail to meet those expectations. We turn around and blame ourselves for not doing better, not exceeding to what we had expected. This has led to many clinical depression issues thus leaving people with more problems than necessary. Schwartz exclaims that the secret to happiness is to have low expectations and less choices.

This discussion that Schwartz gave ties in really well with the discussion John McKnight has had in his book, The Careless Society, regarding the supply of professional public services. Not only do these services make it hard to choose what is right for us, but hinders us from actually making a decision at all. It seems like the plentiful options only bombard and overwhelm people. It makes ordinary life choices way more complicated than what they could be if there was only a select few services available. The choice to problem solve on our own or with each other as empowered members of a community without the need or option to out-source for help and calling on any public service would save a lot of trouble, time and money, plus add value to our ability to fend for ourselves. (pg 17-25)

I've gotten a taste of what it is like to have less choices, and it has proven to me to be a lot less confusing as it adds to a more simple way of life. My husband and I lived in Costa Rica for a year as it being my first time to live outside of the country. It has made a great impression on how simple life can be with less decisions to make, even if they are small choices. For example, grocery shopping is a lot easier. Instead of having 175 choices of salad dressing in the local stores, they probably only have 3 to 5 choices. We learned to live with a lot less too, and there wasn't an option to find everything you wanted as if you went to a Walmart here in the states. While traveling, there are a lot less accommodations, restaurants and entertainment opportunities in the areas of which we were living. Clothes shopping was rarely an issue because the choices were all the same. Same kind of clothes for the same kind of people and very expensive. As far as transportation, if you did not have your own, there was the local bus or one taxi service. In ways, I find some of these decisions more challenging, but at the same time, much less overwhelming. Healthcare was simple too. They only had one hospital in the area and a doctors office. When we first moved down there, it was hard to get used to a lot less choices. It taught me to appreciate what we did have and in return I learned that life is a lot more quieter and easy with less to decide on.

After I viewed this video, it has really opened my eyes to see how choices truly affect our ways of living. Indecision has really hindered my ability to even make a choice no matter what the subject matter is. I often see this to be true in my every day life choices that I have to make. Like, what pair of shoes I am going to wear, or color of shirt would go better with a pair of jeans. I wonder sometimes how these small daily choices add up in hours of decision making and result in lost time.

Another observation I made was watching others make decisions. I was in the store the other day and just quietly doing some grocery shopping. I ended going down the salad dressing isle. The part in this video where he was talking about the choices of salad dressing immediately came to mind as I was passing this man standing in front of the large selection of dressings. I stopped and glanced at him, and said, 'wouldn't it be easier if there were only two or three choices of dressing rather than a billion?' He looked at me kind of in a daze and hesitantly agreed with me. My final comment was, 'it sure seems like this huge selection of choice can get overwhelming'. As I continued on my way, I would occasionally pass this isle to get to where I needed to go next, and I think it was 5 minutes later, this man was still standing there staring at the dressings.


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