The inspiration for finally talking about this topic comes from the following extract in the book “Essentialism- The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” By Greg McKeown. Too Many Choices We have all observed the exponential increase
The inspiration for finally talking about this topic comes from the following extract in the book “Essentialism- The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” By Greg McKeown.
Too Many Choices
We have all observed the exponential increase in choices over the last decade. Yet, even in the midst of it, and perhaps because of it, we have lost the sight of the most important ones. As Peter Drucker said, “In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not the e-commerce. It is the unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time – literally – substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it” We are unprepared in part because, for the first time, the preponderance of choice has overwhelmed our ability to manage it. We have lost our ability to filter what is important and what isn’t. Psychologist call this “decision fatigue”: the more choices we are forced to make, the more the quality of our decisions deteriorates.
We have a reached a phase of human evolution where having choices is considered as a norm. It’s the default. If you don’t see choices for a specific product or service, it is considered either outdated, unnecessary or unimportant. We have forced ourselves and our future generations down this dark path which is getting murkier day by day. This urge to have multiple choices has led humans to lose the essence of knowing what is important and what is it that we really want or need.
I will share a few live examples of today’s age which, instead of enhancing or improving our lives, have had the opposite impact. These are just a few, out of tons of examples we can share to validate this theory.
On Demand Television
Call it On Demand Television or Pay per view, the hundreds if not thousands of choices we are given just to simply watch that one favorite movie, sport or genre of program has ruined what once used to be a pleasant and relaxing experience. Platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sling, Hulu etc. have brought in tremendous variety of content right to our fingertips. With a click of a button, we are exposed to contents from all round the world, that too based on our own personal choices and preferences. It even suggests similar content based on your prior viewing history.
Although all of this sounds amazing (which it is from a technological standpoint), in reality, it has ruined the entire experience of television experience for us as humans. It has turned what used to be simple yet pleasant experience of watching your favorite cartoon or your favorite sport or that blockbuster movie into a complex web of difficult decision-making process.
20 years ago, it was simple case of getting excited on a Monday for your favorite prime time television program to be aired on a Wednesday night. You would return home on time from a long day’s work encouraging the whole family to gather in front of the television with excitement and anticipation. Dinners would be served early and all the errands would be completed on time just to ensure not a single minute was missed. This brought the curious families together filled with emotions, joy and excitement. Following day, stories would be told among friends and opinions and views would be discussed passionately. Human emotions were at their best.
Turn the clock 20 years in the future, and now instead of returning home from a long day’s work and relaxing on your couch watching your favorite channel with your loved ones, we are forced to spend excruciating amount of time figuring out what to watch and on which platform. Coupled with the ever-growing focus on reviews and recommendations, making that one simple choice has turned into an utter nightmare. In addition to this, dependencies on unreliable services such as the internet have made matters even worse.
Unfortunately, this has pushed us towards a whirlpool of indecisions that eventually lead to exhaustion, loss of interest and a lack of clarity. This is ironic since the whole idea behind the invention of television was to make our lives enriching, bring people closer and share information in an intuitive manner. We have lost the art of the beautiful human feelings and the awareness of what is important during this journey of offering more.
Looking to buy a new mobile phone or a new television set? Beware. You are in for a world of pain. Pain here being the one of n number of choices the market has to throw at you. You have to decipher the complex web of mobile brands, the iterations of the same model and their versions.
These gadgets are primarily designed to make our lives simpler and efficient. They are productivity devices that are meant to improve the way we conduct our day to day activities. However, it is counterproductive that we are offered a sea of choices for a simple materialistic gadget that should be taking humanity to the next level.
We are forced to solve and understand the complex technical terms, feature lists and find that one perfect product that suits and meets all our needs. Most often, in the quest to find that most important feature that would enhance our lives, we are forced to settle for a product that partially addresses our needs, that too at an unreasonable price.
Could this situation be avoided? Will offering one single variant (at most 2 to cater to the cost sensitive markets) of every gadget affect the sales? Can we focus on what is truly important for us and not on other things that dilute the entire experience of owning such tools? The answer to all these questions is, yes, but can we as humans make that bold decision and act on addressing it?
Cars were invented 100 years ago to solve one simple problem. How can humans get from one place to another quickly at their own will? The problem statement was simple yet so effective and clear that choosing and owning one was a simple choice.
However, over-time, this simple problem statement got lost in the pursuit of offering choices based on features and variants. Look at the car market today and for a common man on the street, it has become excruciatingly difficult to choose from complex variants and models all separated by a few insignificant features.
Advancements in automotive sector have made today’s cars far more safe, efficient and convenient as compared to the offerings half a century ago. They are more fuel efficient, less noisy, environment friendly and comfortable. However, at the same time, the advancements in other areas of technology have introduced complicated differentiators to an already difficult product to understand for the common human.
Look around and every car model will have a minimum of 4 variants (each for Petrol/Gasoline and Diesel version). So instead of choosing from 1 single Petrol and 1 single Diesel option, now you are looking at 8 different variants to choose from. In some cases, like the Kia Seltos, last I heard, you have 13 variants to choose from.
Owning a car is an feeling which all humans want to experience once in their lifetime. It’s a feeling of achieving a childhood dream. But the reality of the decision-making process reduces that feeling to shear exhaustion and confusion. Sadly, the most important feeling of happiness, pride and sense of achievement is lost during this entire process, just because we have made our lives miserable by offering umpteen choices.
Go to any Walmart store and tell me you are absolutely confident of arriving at a decision of what you want to purchase without getting confused by the shear choices in food products? Buying a simple, innocent product such as good old “Milk” is probably the most difficult purchasing decision you will make in your life.
You have choices such as Whole, Skimmed, Half & Half, 2%. Fat, No fat, Lactose free, Almond milk, Tofu milk etc. which make you go round and round wondering what is it that you actually want. Add to that multiple brands, health benefits and officially approved ratings and it is a recipe for highest levels of confusion. You will find this true for every food product on every shelf of leading supermarkets around the world.
Question is: Did our grandparents suffer in their times due to the lack of these choices? Did their health take a toll because they consumed whole milk instead of 2% fat? Were they unhappy because they had a smaller number of choices?
In our quest and foolish pursuit of giving more, we have lost the essence of being simple. The saying “Less is More” is probably most relevant in today’s world. Instead of de-cluttering our already complex lives, we have introduced newer ways to constantly keep us on the edge. As we have strived for technological advancements to take humanity to the next level, we have in reality become a far less efficient race.
In our quest for achieving the impossible or introducing newer things daily, we have lost the essence of those simple things that made us truly happy.
We have failed in understanding what is important by offering choices in everything that we do or need. We have introduced the concept of decision fatigue in our lives which can still be avoided. Its’ not too late.