37, college grad, 2x married, one son, one stepdaughter, four cats, one idiot dog, one very small house and small garden.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Spoiled For Choice

Here is my issue du jour: the agony of choice. Don't worry, I'm not about to start an internet war over the abortion issue. I'm talking about the issue of having too many choices. We live in a society that overvalues the words 'selection' and 'convenience.' We want it all, right now, and in one location so we don't have to drive around all over heck and gone.

A prime example: potato chips. When I was a kid (I can -hear- you all sighing and rolling your eyes), there were two flavors of potato chip: plain and barbecue. And there weren't very many brands; just Lay's, Pringle's, and whatever local or store brand existed in your area. There was onion dip, but no ranch. If you bought Frito's corn chips, you could get bean dip to go with it. That was about it. And we were all perfectly happy with that limited selection.

I can actually remember two halcyon days in the history of the American Chip (bear in mind that in Europe, a chip is a french fry, and a crisp is a potato chip). The first was when Lay's introduced the new 'sour cream and onion' flavor chip. Suddenly, everyone at my school had breath that smelled like oniony yak barf. Barbecue was out as the cool flavor; yak barf was in. The second moment was the advent of a new brand: the Cape Cod Gourmet Chip. They had plain flavor, but also two exotic ones: vinegar and sea salt, and white cheddar. I had no idea, up to that moment, that cheddar even came in white.

Then, not ten minutes later it seemed, there were dozens of chip brands and dozens of flavor choices. I kid you not that just the other day I stood in front of a Lay's display and debated over whether to get Cool California Dill flavor, Texas Mesquite flavor, or Jalapeno Lime flavor. I ended up passing altogether. I couldn't make up my mind.

And that is where the agony of choice comes into it. In the consumer world today, we've become inundated with so many choices that we're stymied. We have this terrible feeling that we should have it all, and right now, thank you very much. After all, as the hair commercials keep telling us, we're worth it. But are we?

I can't see that we are. In many parts of the world, the big daily choice is whether to starve for the day or stand in line for a bowl of rice at the refugee center. And my big choice today was whether to take a nap or write this blog. Somehow, I don't feel worthy of the option of smoky bacon flavor chips.

And is this much choice really necessary? People in the industrialized world are faced with such an avalanche of choice, information, options, items, products, and services that I'm amazed we can get through the day without losing our minds. Suddenly, the word 'simplicity' has an exciting appeal. There are so many choices in every area of lives these days that many of are choosing not to choose. We either do without, or we put ourselves deep into debt to have it all. But where would we put it? (In our house...the garage. That's where the excess goes to die.)

I believe that having too many choices is bankrupting us spiritually and morally. The ease with which we can get anything at any time has had a jading effect. Our children grow up believing they're entitled to whatever their hearts desire, in several designer colors. And adults believe that since they didn't have all this nifty stuff when they were kids, they somehow owe it to their children. So the grownups are broke and kids are spoiled. Not a perfect setting to develop decent ethics for living for either group.

But what can be done about it, oh Majestic Dispenser of Moral Turpitude? I hear you ask. (Well, actually, what I can hear you saying is, SO!? Why can't I have smoky bacon flavor chips??) The answer: not a whole heck of a lot. We're certainly not going to be able to convince corporate America that we want fewer choices, as we have already demonstrated that we just love to spend twenty minutes a week trying to choose a shampoo. I can confidently predict that we will be faced with a growing legion of choices in every aspect of life. You can't even have a disease in this country without being faced with a pantheon of medical selections. (I suppose that's a good thing, but I wish all these celebrities would stop trying to 'raise my awareness' about every ailment under the sun. My awareness level can only go so high. And I do not believe championing a worthy cause gives them legitimacy. With rare exceptions, it just makes them look like they feel sorry for the little people.)

The only way out of this morass (what a delightful word for this situation...More? ASS!) is to turn a blind eye to consumerism and focus on something simple. Not an easy task, given that nearly every inch of our lives is plastered with advertising of one form or another. I am just as guilty of gross consumerism as the rest of you. But I have noticed that every time I give in to my greedy desires, the pleasure in the choice fades the minute I get home and realize I've spend money fruitlessly and wasted another chunk of a finite and rapidly vanishing lifetime.

I'm not asking anyone else to do this, but I'm going to try to keep my eye on the prize; the here and now, and what I can do that will be meaningful for myself, others, or possibly both. I am sure I will fail dramatically and repeatedly, but with practice I should be able to reduce my consumer urges to a minimum. But first...I think I'll make myself a cup of coffee. Should I have that with cocoa powder, cinnamon, or plain cream and sugar? Oh...the agony of choice.


Post a Comment

<< Home