Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The New Yorker

I have no idea how long this link will last, but while it does, it's a worthy read about having too many choices. The conclusion of which can be summed up in this, well, concluding sentence: And if Schwartz’s book is really about the anguish of choice in general—and not merely about choice as a facet of shopping—there is no reason for any such argument to stop before it reaches, say, “a woman’s right to choose.” Once you stop taking people’s expressed preferences at face value, pretty much every single contentious political, economic, sexual, familial, social, and labor issue can be opened up to unpredictable renegotiation.

I've seen a few things written about this book since it was released. And I've had a similar knee-jerk reaction: What do you mean we have too many choices? Who gets to choose what I get to choose? But the more I read about it, the more I think, Well, that's fine, but shouldn't it serve more as a caution to us that we're always going to find something else somewhere else that we're going to want? It's not just me or you or him or her, but everyone has twinges of buyer's remorse? Everyone wonders if he or she made the right choices? Heck, I still wonder if I should have gone to NYU instead of USC, but there's only so much time available to make a choice like that.

It reminds me of a snippet of a conversation I overheard in a line once. A guy in his early twenties was bragging about going to UCLA, because it was "the best school, in the best city, in the best state, in the best country in the world." I find other people's pangs of doubt more reassuring that this kind of absolute certainty. We who wonder if we've done the right thing are constantly correcting our course, it seems. True, too much introspection can lead to indecision and paralysis, but there's a healthy amount that make us want to improve our choices by wondering, What would be different? What did I fail to take into account? Those who are absolutely certain of every decision they've ever made seem to be lulled into a certainty that EVERY decision that they will EVER make will ALWAYS be correct. A dangerous expectation, I think.

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