The Paradox of Choice
The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz
Schwartz's premise is that too many options leads to unhappiness; and that our modern world is one with too many choices, therefore, modern unhappiness and depression to the point where people cannot make decisions and spend too much time mourning lost opportunities. "More" is "less" because of the amount of time and emotion wasted on so many choices.
This is a fascinating book, even though I don't agree with everything he says. Schwartz begins with examples that are supposed to illustrate his "there really are too many choices" argument – and points at jeans and food. As he talks about the 80-odd choices for crackers, he does so in a tone to provoke laughter – but I found it an uncomfortable surface laugh. Who would decide which of those 80 odd ones we don't need -- do we get rid of the low or no sodium? Whole wheat? Your favorite? It seems like this type of argument is only good if you're laughing at someone else. In addition, with Hurricane Katrina illustrating the poverty in this country and its affects – well, TPOC is a book about middle and upper middle class America. It's about those with the luxury of choice.
This is an extremely interesting book with some fascinating illustrations and arguments. I was particularly intrigued by the experiments that showed consumers reacting more favorably to a display with only 6 choices instead of 30 choices, and wonder if that would prove true with library book displays.
Schwartz offers solutions – and thankfully, he's not arguing that there should only be one style of jeans in the store; despite the tone of the "too many crackers" argument, he's not arguing that there should be less crackers on the shelf. Rather, it is mostly common sense advice about how to deal with making decisions and living with those decisions. "Choose when to choose," which simply means once you have found that brand and size and style of jeans that fits well, why go looking elsewhere? Some of the advice may be a bit controversial, for example, "accept good enough instead of best." What he means is chasing after the impossible ideal or what the neighbor has leads to unhappiness; but I was a bit uncomfortable with the idea of settling. Others are simple suggestions on how to life live: "regret less."
While you may not agree with everything in Schwartz's book, it is an intriguing look at modern life.
An online excerpt is available here.