Too Much Choice Is A Bad Thing

September 9, 2018

I have started noticing how my two youngest kids find it almost impossible to make their minds up on what TV Show or Movie they want to want to watch on the weekends. The decision-making process takes an age, and something that should be wonderfully exciting becomes a decision fraught with the potential for anxiety, regret, and discord.


On paper this is a strange situation, as a child, I used to have to try to get excited about a Sunday afternoon of TV that involved such highlights as; “One Man and His Dog”, “Songs of Praise” and “Last of the Summer Wine”. Even my eldest daughter, at her youngest siblings age, had to make do with the scheduled programming of Nickelodeon and Disney. My youngest kids, however, get to stream whatever they want to watch from an enormous library of options through Netflix. And so, this weekly discord about what to watch has resulted in me questioning whether having an unlimited choice of anything is a positive thing?


It is not only Netflix, the never-ending library of choice you can receive from Spotify can also cause problems. Before the ability to stream music you would tend to simply put a chosen CD on and then enjoy the entire album, a singular decision was made and then you were mentally free to enjoy the music. The decision would be based on your own CD collection and would only need to be made one album at a time. Now, with a choice as extensive as on Spotify, rather than enjoy the music it is easy to find yourself not enjoying the song you have chosen as you are worrying about what song to play next instead. Again, it seems that too much choice can detract from the enjoyment of the very thing you have chosen.


Unlimited choice can not only be an issue with streaming services, it is a problem that rears its ugly head on a daily basis with your work attire as well. From what tie to wear at work? To that most awful of questions; what to wear on "dress down Friday”? The morning routine can be made all the more complicated and lengthy when faced with too much choice. Ask anybody that has worked in an office for over a decade and I suspect that there has not been at least one day when they wished that they were expected to simply wear a set uniform daily with prescribed shoes, socks, shirts, jackets, and ties.


By no means am I advocating the restriction of choice and individual expression, these are core to the personal freedoms that every individual should demand and expect. However, I believe that unlimited choice has the potential to be destructive. This is clearly counter-intuitive but may, in fact, explain why mental health, despite the superficial progress that has been made generation after generation, appears to be at all-time lows in contemporary society. Unlimited choice can be problematic and in many ways, while you may wish to give your children, loved ones and employees as much personal choice as possible; sometimes providing clear direction and limiting people's options can be just as beneficial. This exploration of the threat from unlimited choice naturally leads to the broader question about the dangers of SMART phones, especially for children. However, that is a question that would require a great more time to answer and explore; one step at a time.  


And so this weekend, rather than let my kids choose from the never-ending library of shows on Netflix, I will give them two options to choose from. Hopefully, this will result in a more harmonious couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon.

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