February 13, 2008
Book Short: What’s For Dinner Tonight, Honey?
The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, by Barry Schwartz, presents an enlightening, if somewhat distressing perspective on the proliferation of options and choices facing the average American today. The central thesis of the book is that some choice is better than no choice (I’d rather be able to pick blue jeans or black jeans), but that limited choice may be better in the end than too much choice (how do I know that the jeans I really want are relaxed cut, tapered leg, button fly, etc.?). We have this somewhat astonishing, recurring conversation at home every night, with the two of us sitting around paralyzed about where to eat dinner.
The author’s arguments and examples are very interesting throughout, and his “Laffer curve” type argument about choice vs. too much choice rings true. While there’s obviously no conclusive proof about this, the fact that our society is more rife with depression than ever before at least feels like it has a correlation with the fact that most of us now face a proliferation of choices and decisions to make exponentially more than we used to. The results of this involve ever-mounting levels of regret, or fear of regret, as well as internal struggles with control and expectations. Perhaps the best part of the book is the final chapter, which ties a lot of the material of the book together with 11 simple suggestions to cope better with all the choices and options in life — summed up in the last few words of the book suggestions that “choice within constraints, freedom within limits” is the way to go. Amen to that. We all need some basic structure and frameworks governing our lives, even if we create those constructs ourselves. The absence of them is chaos.
Overall, this is a good social science kind of read, not overwhelming, but definitely interesting for those who are students of human psychology, marketing, and decision making. It’s squarely in the genre of Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Blink, and Robert Cialdini’s Influence, most of which I’ve written about recently, and though not as engaging as Gladwell, worth a read on balance if you like the genre.
Thanks to my friend Jonathan Shapiro for this book.