The Paradox of Choice

Decisions, decisions, decisions!

Have you ever been in this situation? Confronted with too many choices you feel paralysed by indecision.

Or just get it plain wrong! Or YOU get blamed for not explaining yourself clearly!

Sometime in the next few weeks we must choose a contractor to undertake ripping out our kitchen to the bare walls and rebuilding from scratch. The house was built just after the war and has been largely remodeled in every other space, but we still have the original kitchen. Dreading the upheaval, we have allowed the kitchen to become shabbier and shabbier, but now the appliances are failing and repairs must be made. Moving is not an option, we love the location and our quirky reassignment of room functions makes this house fit our needs like a comfy old sweater. But I wish we could just go away for six months and come back to find it finished… perfectly, of course, and with simplicity, economy, style, and convenience!

During our long period of procrastination, I have attempted to inform myself about options and responsibilities. I have spent hours looking at decorator magazines, or at the computer researching  product  lines and kitchens in new houses in the realty listings. This has not been helpful!

Watching the home improvement television programs has been worse! They have induced a state approaching terror when it comes to selecting tradesman and drawing up contracts. My reason tells me that the producers of the show are looking at worst case scenarios and sensational disasters. But watching the scolding project manager rip out huge and expensive installations in costly new homes, all the while railing at the greed and stupidity rampant in some areas of the building trades… this does not reassure me. His advice sounds good … choose a reliable contractor and get references… but they all look alike in the phonebook, and my references are all from friends who have had comparatively small jobs done in much newer homes.

I realize however that there is more behind my procrastination than merely a reluctance to get started. I do not want to spend the next year of my life, not only living through the mess, but up to my ears in researching faucets, and counters, and…. whatever!  There is no end to the endless choices and to eager sales reps wanting to influence decisions. My husband just says that it is up to me… he wants me to be happy!

These two lectures gave me some insight, but no solution .

The first is an animated lecture from RSA, the Royal Society of Arts in Britain. Their website is fascinating, and the animations enhance the clarity of the presentation… point form notes in an evolving cartoon that unrolls as we watch. How brilliant! The second is a lecture from TED… Technology, Entertainment, and Design… another website I visit regularly and recommend highly!  The content is about the same, but the difference in presentation enhanced, at least for me, my understanding of the topic.

Enjoy them both… and don’t worry if I miss a blogging day or two during the summer. I will be spending all the too hot, too humid, or too rainy days looking at sinks and garbage organizers!

In this new RSAnimate, Professor Renata Salecl explores the paralysing anxiety and dissatisfaction surrounding limitless choice. Does the freedom to be the architects of our own lives actually hinder rather than help us? Does our preoccupation with choosing and consuming actually obstruct social change?

The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less is a 2004 book by American psychologist Barry Schwartz. Here is the Wikipedia outline of his thesis and few lines from it.

Schwartz relates the ideas of psychologist Herbert A. Simon from the 1950s to the psychological stress that most consumers face today. He notes some important distinctions between, what Simon termed, maximizers and satisficers. A maximizer is like a perfectionist, someone who needs to be assured that their every purchase or decision was the best that could be made. The way a maximizer knows for certain is to consider all the alternatives they can imagine. This creates a psychologically daunting task, which can become even more daunting as the number of options increases. The alternative to maximizing is to be a satisficer. A satisficer has criteria and standards, but a satisficer is not worried about the possibility that there might be something better. Ultimately, Schwartz agrees with Simon’s conclusion, that satisficing is, in fact, the maximizing strategy.

Schwartz draws particular attention to Lane’s assertion that Americans are paying for increased affluence and freedom with a substantial decrease in the quality and quantity of community. What was once given by family, neighborhood and workplace now must be achieved and actively cultivated on an individual basis. The social fabric is no longer a birthright but has become a series of deliberated and demanding choices.

And here is the TED presentation… Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz’s estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.

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