More Choice, Less Satisfaction

We were watching Netflix a few days ago, and we couldn’t find the movie we wanted to see. But apart from that movie, there were so many choices of movie or TV series. It was overwhelming.

Add in Amazon and all the other streaming sources and it gets ridiculous. Tanya and I have a really hard time choosing what to watch if presented with an almost infinite choice. Often we’ll just retreat to the comfort of a book.

In the old days there were just a few TV channels to watch, and programs had fixed schedules. So if we wanted to watch, say, Lovejoy, we sat in front of the TV at the appointed time—or we missed it. I enjoyed TV a lot more in those days. Predictability and limited choices.

Now there are many choices, and much better visual quality, but the experience is no better. Back then we knew only what we had and we enjoyed it. Watching TV is little more than entertainment, an escape from reality—unless we watch the News shows 🙂 —and modern TV is no better than old TV for escapism. It’s arguably worse because we no longer have the added benefit of being able to discuss what we watched with friends at work the next day.

For some reason—money comes to my mind—we are constantly told that the answer to life, the universe, and everything is more choice.

But my brain is not well-designed to handle choice. What I want is predictability and the security this brings. My brain doesn’t really like choices and having to make decisions.

I don’t really want a 401K where I choose among investment options. I want the predictability and security of a pension with a known payment every month. Too late for that now though.

I don’t want a choice among a hundred different medical plans with different options, different copays, different deductibles. I just want to be able to go to the doctor and be fixed, as people do in all other industrialized countries.

I don’t want to be paralyzed by the choice of a hundred toothpastes and toothbrushes. I really am no more satisfied having chosen X than Y.

So why do we have so much choice? The politically correct answer is so that there is more competition and thus lower prices. But this answer only works up to a point.

There is no real competition in toothpaste, there’s just pointless choice. There’s no competition in medical care because we can’t read reviews and we can’t switch at will. There’s less and less competition in cellphone networks, airlines, health insurance because providing choice is not a good business model—every big company would rather be a monopoly because that’s where the money is—and so companies with deep pockets persuade governments to allow consolidation of their industry. And I don’t want choice of risks in retirement planning; I just want a predictable income stream on which I can base my plans.

But no one asks We, the People, what We want. Medicare and Social Security are incredibly popular programs, yet we are not asked if we’d like their simplicity and predictability to be available for all healthcare and all retirement payments. Instead, we are offered choices based on the political beliefs of politicians and the profit-making desires of the companies that fund them.

More choice, less satisfaction. Sigh. 😕

Links and Other Clicks

Two wonderful books about choice: The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less and The Art of Choosing.

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2 Responses to More Choice, Less Satisfaction

  1. Mark says:

    One of your better columns, i agree with you and feel the need to help others to see how we are being played by the govt and big businesses.


  2. Alec, I remember reading that soon after President Obama took office he eliminated most of his wardrobe and kept only a very limited number of suits, shirts, and ties, many of them the same. He did this so he did not waste his considerable intellect or emotional energy deciding in the morning what to wear. If it’s Monday it must be the blue suit, if it is Tuesday it’s the blue suit also!

    Regarding the 401K and investment options I solved this long ago. I have for over 30 years subscribed to a newsletter that has 4 model portfolios using Fidelity mutual funds. You pick a portfolio and you follow it. A couple times a year you make a trade when they tell you. If you want to know why they are making a trade they tell you in the newsletter but you don’t have to know, you just make the trade because they told you so. They send you an email every Friday and 90% of them begin with “There are no trades advised.” This has taken all the choosing away from me, made me happier about my investments, and it has actually worked well from an investment standpoint. All the money at one company and all the advise from another.

    Finally, I disagree a little about TV. For me this is the golden (or platinum) age of TV. yes there is a lot to choose from but much of it is excellent and more of my conversation revolve around what we watch and like now more so than back in the “good ‘ol days” of three networks.


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