Barry Schwartz, Paradox of Choice

Anyone who has ever walked down the aisles of a supermarket in the United States knows a little something of the Paradox of Choice. A multitude of options call to us from every shelf, from dozens of styles of toothbrush to varying breeds of apples. When faced with so many options, how can we come to an educated and rational decision about which is best for us? And in the end, does having all these options enable us to be happier?

In this TED talk, psychologist Barry Schwartz begins to address these questions.

One of the interesting things that he points out is that with the technologies we have today – smart phones, laptops, etc. – it is possible to always be working, or to at least always have the potential to do work. This means that we must always be making a choice between working (or, more broadly speaking, engaging with the online world), and participating in the immediate events of our life. I imagine that this is a very different state of affairs than existed 50 years ago.

Schwartz gives two negative effects that all this choice has on people: 1 – that ‘it produces paralysis, rather than liberation’, and 2 – we end up less satisfied than if we had fewer options.

The talk brings up a lot of interesting ideas, though in the end he gives very little guidance as to how to avoid the effects of the paradox of choice, other than to suggest that we might be better off if we artificially limit ourselves. Still, definitely worth a look.

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