The Paradox of Choice

Join the DebateJohn Horvat II, the author of Return to Order, regularly updates this site with insights about the cause and solution for our economic crisis. He invites you to share your insights too. Please join the discussion. Mr. Horvat is committed to make a serious effort to answer posts, schedule permitting.

ISSUE BEING DISCUSSED FOR Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Some people celebrate the “unlimited” choices open to them at a Wal-Mart, for example, despite the evident impossibility of exercising even a fraction of these options.

The questions this week: Does such “unlimited” choice maximize satisfaction? What is the true criteria for product satisfaction? Do you often find yourselves unsatisfied with today’s “unlimited” choices?” Can “unlimited” choice lead to unrealistic expectations and frustration?

  • Unlimited choices can certainly lead to expectionally bland and mediocre products.  When was the last time you bought a good apple?  Only when I get one from the farmer’s market do I get a good apple. 

  • Francis Slobodnik

    There are much fewer choices than before the super stores and online services.  Local bookstores, toy stores, hardware stores, dress shops, clothing stores and markets etc. all had a uniqueness about them.  Shopping in such venues was a calm, personal and satisfactory experience.  If a store didn’t have what you desired, they would do their best to obtain it for you.  Today, it is one size fits all, and this is all we have.

  • The last time I took a long road trip, I was utterly disappointed by the “unlimited” choices available in many restaurants, not to mention fast-food establishments.  You are given many options, yet the flavor and presentation are almost always the same: mass-produced soda, chips, and burgers.  The name might change, but the content is similar.  Travel another 300 miles further and what do you find?  More of the same.  Without prior scouting of the area, it can be very difficult to find something that satisfies.

  • chas. lacz.

    We do not need to have unlimited choices.  We need to have only a few”quality choices.” A  product should be well-made, reasonable in price, and have some durability.  In older times, the 1950’s, you might have 2 or 3 choices in pants ,suits, and shoes.  It was more than sufficient to meet the needs of the average person.
    One element that went with this was personal service.  If you went for shoes, the standard shoe size machine was brought to measure size and width, by a salesman. the same was true for suits.  You were measure by waist, pants length and chest size to determine the fit for you.  If the fit was not right, as in suits, the store had them tailored for you.
    Can you find that at a Walmart today, or, for that matter any large retail store?
    With “all” the choices today we usually are not satisfied because all of the above are missing.  The most important of these has to bew the personal touch that was given to you when you walked into the store.

  • John Horvat II

    I could not resist sharing this quote cited in Return to Order:

     “As a culture, we are enamored of freedom, self-determination, and variety, and we are reluctant to
    give up any of our options,” writes Barry Schwartz. “But clinging tenaciously to all the choices available to us contributes to bad decisions, to anxiety, stress, and dissatisfaction—even to clinical depression.”

    Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less (New York: Harper Perennial, 2004), 3.

  • wcam

    “Unlimited choices” in our modern society is something that does cause problems. When mass production is the law of the land the quality of the products being produced goes out the window.
    It was so different forty years ago, when you purchased a pair of dress pants the fit and the quality were very good. That’s because we still had manufactures in our country that paid attention to detail and quality. Now most goods that are mass produced today lack quality because of the inferior materials used in the production of these goods and the lack of attention to detail.   
    As a result we have now become a throw away society because detail and quality just doesn’t matter to most consumers anymore. With so many cheap items in the marketplace you just throw out the old item and buy a new one.
    Appliances are a perfect example. My mother and father, who are in their nineties, are still using the
    Sears washer machine they purchased in the seventies. This is unheard of
    today. An appliance serviceman once told me that the appliances being produced today are made to last only five years. 
    As consumers we do suffer from “unlimited choices” and poorly produced goods. These cheap goods are meant to breakdown, or wear out, over a short period of time and that can be very frustrating for all of us.

  • RaymondDrake

    This question reminds me of one of the Scriptural quotes in the advance copy of Return to Order I read: “What doth it avail a fool to have riches, seeing he cannot buy wisdom” (Prov. 17:16).

  • Fionnaitsradag

    I would say that the choices available are mostly unsatisfactory, because by and large both quality and beauty have been sacrificed for the sake of mass production and “affordability”–which often isn’t all that affordable…also, millions of American dollars flow into Communist countries and, to some degree at least, help to support these governments and the human rights abuses that they perpetrate.  

  • Preston Noell

    Actually, the choices at Wal-Mart are not “unlimited”. They’re only unlimited in the mind of someone who doesn’t know there is a whole other of other choices, of excellent items found elsewhere with a bit of effort. Oftentimes, that extra effort is very worthwhile. 

    In any case, “unlimited” choice does not maximize satisfaction, especially when that which is truly excellent is unavailable. If the unlimited choices are uniformly mediocre, frustration can easily set in when expectations of good quality are not met. If someone is unaware there are better choices elsewhere, that’s one thing. However, knowing that a top quality product is limited in availability, and costly also, can help give perspective to one’s expectations. And actually help be satisfied with something that is very good, but not the best.