Thursday, September 1, 2011

More thinking – Freedom of Choice

The current thinking in the Western world is that the more choices we have to choose from the more freedom we have. In order to maximize freedom we need to maximize choice.

Hmmm.

When I first came to Australia I couldn’t believe there were no dark breads available to buy in the supermarket. You could barely find them anywhere. There were about 20 different white breads, all square in shape but there no dark breads to be found. I found it hard to choose which one because I didn’t know which white breads were good, they all tasted the same to me and I didn’t really want white bread anyway.

Nowadays there’s plenty of choice of darker breads but I don’t eat more sandwiches. I do, however, spend more time trying to select the “right” bread often leaving the shop wondering if I shouldn’t have chosen something else.

When my second husband moved from the US to join me here in Australia he complained about the lack of choice when it came to soda and toothpaste. One side of a whole isle in our local supermarket was packed with different types of soda. There were several feet of shelving with five different brands of toothpaste and five to ten different variations at least. What more could you possibly need? In Sweden where I grew we didn’t even have half of these choices, hell you could hardly get coke. He thought we were backward where I grew.

Nowadays I don’t drink soda and I use the toothpaste my dentist told me to use. If I drank soda and had a dentist that refused to take sides when it comes to toothpastes I would be lost trying to choose myself.

Some people change their mobile phones often. I don’t. I would like to go buy a phone that doesn’t do anything but make or receive phone calls because that would make it easy to choose. Don’t get me started on phone plans. I’ve had the same one for almost 10 years. I tell myself it’s because it’s cheap and it suits me. The truth is that I suffer from paralysis. It’s the same paralysis that keeps from having an up to date passport because I can’t decide whether I should travel all the way to Canberra to get a new one or if I should finally become an Australian citizen, stay in Sydney and get the Australian passport here.

I have a theory when it comes to relationships and choice too. I think choice is why the divorce rates are up. It’s easier to think that the grass is greener on the other side now and go for a swap when the going gets a bit tough than to put in the hard work and make what you have work. I’m generalizing I know, I should know, I swapped out one bastard for another and then went on to spending two years in celibacy. It was about choice, trust me.

It’s everywhere. They push choice on us. It’s no longer possible to go to your bank and ask them for what is the best place to save your money. Nowadays they provide you with multiple choices and you have to choose. They give you options and you have to somehow make the decision about what’s best for you. Problem is that you’re not a finance wizard so it’s really hit and miss.

We buy much more than we have to because of choice. We’re so confused by all the choices we have that we don’t know what to pick so often we end up choosing several options in fear of missing out. Things on sale, we buy them because we don’t want to miss out even though we don’t really need more of it.

Personally, I get paralyzed by all these choices. I end up stalling making choices because I don’t know which ones the best. I’m supposed to be planning for my retirement and I now have three different superannuation funds. I should consolidate but I can’t figure out which fund is best for me. As far as I can tell my only option is to go see someone who will be trying to sell me another product, another superannuation fund, and then roll all my other ones into that one. But how do I know which company to choose? How do I know that what will be recommended today won’t be bad in the future? I don’t. No one does. It’s a gamble.

In the last generation depression has exploded and this during a time when life has become very easy in the Western world and we have more choices available to us than ever. When you make a choice from all that’s offered and you’re still not happy there’s only you to blame. You made the wrong choice. Maybe. Did you? Who knows? When there were limited choices you didn’t have to blame yourself if what you got didn’t suit you perfectly, the world was at fault. You didn’t have to feel bad about it.

The weird thing is that we live in a world where part of it suffers from having too many choices, and it’s not making them any happier, and the other part doesn’t have enough choices. The solution seems so simple, doesn’t it? A simple redistribution of resources, a few less choices of toothpaste in the Western world, in exchange for more food in the third world. We here in the Western world wouldn’t even notice the different.

I’m just saying.

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