TOO MANY CHOICES

Prices of computers have come down.  A lot. My first computer cost $1,100, in 1983 money, at University Book and Supply in Cedar Falls. That would be $2,665.55 today.  The computer I bought a couple of months ago cost only $220, but I can’t insult either of these good products by comparing them.  1983 was a different time, and our expectations were different.  What really impressed me this year, though, was the variety of computers I was forced to choose from.  Today’s huge selection created an intimidating list of decisions I had to make before picking just one.

The first store I visited had about a dozen different computers, and that seemed overwhelming. Then, when I walked into Best Buy and saw their thirty-five laptops, I knew I’d never get it narrowed down.  Totally frustrated,  I actually walked out of the store.   Halfway to the car, I remembered the Big Bang Theory episode called “The Indecision Amalgamation” where Sheldon decides he needs a new gaming system but can’t decide between the PS4 or Xbox One.  He was paralyzed by fear that he would make the wrong choice.  Eventually the clerk told him the store had closed for the night, and he couldn’t buy either.  Comparing myself to Sheldon Cooper was the last straw, and I turned around to reenter the store.

Fortunately a young lady prowling the aisles noted my problem and asked me a series of quick questions that could be summarized as “what will you do with it?”  That helped.  I have only four needs.

  • A good keyboard for my fancy typewriter.
  • Research.   I need an internet connection for Google and a few other search engines.
  • Business papers that come into our house get scanned into the computer and transferred to Evernote.
  • Email.

With  those four truths, my little angel of mercy suggested what was probably the simplest computer they had.  And it still has ten times the computing power I need… all for $220.00.

The experience led me to read a number of reseach articles on the phenomenon of “too many choices.” The one idea that gets repeated over and over is that when faced with all those options, we become  frustrated and overwhelmed .  Too many choices can confuse the issue and force us into totally unnecessary considerations.  Under pressure, we’ll make any choice just to narrow the selection and end the torture.  Many people just shut down.

Ultimately, we feel doomed to failure because we fear making the wrong choice, either by paying too much, passing up a feature we might really need, or missing out on some unknown, something that might be available at the next store.

The  phenomenon is not restricted to technology, or even high priced items like cars.  One of my favorite grocery stores is Aldi’s. It’s not that they always have the greatest selection. On the contrary, they often have just one of whatever it is you want.  You want canned string beans?  They have them, but just one brand.  You want canned peaches?  They have those too.  One kind.  Take it or leave it.  And I like that.

If I want unlimited selection and have the time to ponder the advantages and disadvantages of each type or style, I can go to Hy-Vee or Walmart.  Most days, having less choice serves my purposes well and may even allow me to sleep better.

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