In the previous post, Ombudsben‘s comment got me thinking that there was a lot more to say here. He referred to how creatures flock in groups to escape predators and that not only does this make you one of many rather than one out of one but that its not uncommon that this so flusters the predator that they come away empty mouthed. Just like me hunting clothing. I recently walked out of a store because I just had too many decisions to make (I must confess here that shopping for clothing for me is one of the clearest manifestations of hell).
But consider that in one case there is a purpose to the crowding to avoid capture and in the other hand the proliferation of choice is supposed to result in greater sales. Somebody wasn’t paying attention on the way up the evolutionary ladder it seems. A recent article in the NYT about happiness said that it had declined in China since 1994 when in the same period average real incomes grew by 250%. In the United States there was no measured increase in happiness between 1944 and 1974 despite the general increase in wealth.
So when I grew up I had and enjoyed Heinz catsup.
(Photo courtesy of Patrick: source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/o_caritas/4787872/)
Since then there have been hundreds of catsup (or ketchup) brought onto the market. What is in my fridge right now? A year old bottle of Heinz. Now I don’t really use the stuff anymore; I’ve become a salsa man and I did have a dalliance with the short lived hot Heinz catsup since I had already been mixing mine with sambal oelek to give it some zing but the point is, I’ve still got the same old stuff. When I tried the hot version it was just before the catsup explosion happened and I just might never have made that brave move if that would have been the sequence of events.
All the Chinese and Americans now have increased access to condiments of all kinds and it doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference. I know that also it is an axiom of childrearing to provide a choice between two clear alternatives rather than “what would you like for dinner?” Its much easier to answer whether I would like a whiskey or a beer than be faced with an extensive bar and have to think of some sort of mixed drink. And as pleasing as that brandy alexander or whatever might be, the difference in real happiness in my system between that and the beer would be minimal. I do confess that I am particular in my drinks and would have asked what kind of beer and what kind of whiskey. Which leads to the next conundrum.
Presenting choices introduces dissatisfaction where before there was none. It implies that what you have is not the best. It implies that you have an imperfect knowledge of the world of condiments and that to be a fully realized human being you better get on board that bus. Now a secondary issue arises; the bus will not guarantee to take you as far as you may need to go. The more products there are. the more likely it is that any of them will be discontinued. My hot Heinz fell to the wayside to be replaced by another Heinz tinged with Tabasco, and though I do like heat I do not like the taste of Tobasco. Ergo, my happiness level fell until I got over catsup entirely.
Would I prefer a world with fewer choices? Though I have ended up with a couple of things I would now miss, most of them come from areas in which the general quality had been low, not where there had been a lack of choice. There’s always been coffee but it has gotten a lot better. In most cases, something was not bad and all thats been done is to create varieties for the reason of interest rather than taste. All in all, I am for the restriction of choice in products. Life is too short to spend so much of it standing in an aisle looking at 1800 types of crackers. Besides you could make an argument that this proliferation of crap is the work of the wizards trying to keep us from looking behind the curtain.