Friday, January 13, 2006

Like a kid in a candy shop


Nightfall
Originally uploaded by baby7.
Stuart Jeffries points to a source of stress in our post-modern world: the dizzying array of choices we are presented with on a daily basis.
[W]e need devices to protect us from our hopelessness at deciding between 57 barely differentiated varieties of stuff - be they TV channels, gourmet coffee, downloadable ring tones, perhaps ultimately even interchangeable lovers. This thought is inimical to our government's philosophy, which suggests that greater choice over railways, electricity suppliers and education will make us happy. In my experience, they do anything but....

Choice wasn't supposed to make people miserable. It was supposed to be the hallmark of self-determination that we so cherish in capitalist western society. But it palpably isn't: ever more choice increases the feeling of missed opportunities, and this leads to self-blame when choices fail to meet expectations. What is to be done? A new book by an American social scientist, Barry Schwartz, called The Paradox of Choice, suggests that reducing choices can limit anxiety.

This is hardly new. Economists have long realised that the perfectly rational utility maximiser only exists in theory. The Nobel laureate Herbert Simon said any firm that tried to make decisions that would maximise its returns would bankrupt itself in a never-ending search for the best option. Instead, they "satisfice", which means they content themselves with results that are "good enough". In business, it's not the utility maximiser who is prized but the decision maker. In this context, to be a good decision maker does not mean that you make good decisions, just that you make a decision. Ditherers are the real pain, as any waiter will tell you.

Schwartz offers a self-help guide to good decision making by helping us to limit choices to a manageable number, and ultimately derive greater satisfaction from the choices you have to make. This is a capitalist response to a capitalist problem. |Guardian|(emphasis added)
So all you need to do to limit your stress is to move to a monastery. Preferably one without cable.

1 comment:

Brian P said...

Ah, but which monastery?