Too Much Choice

I like cereal.  I think most people do.  In my house we usually have around seven or eight boxes going at any given time—a few twig-like whole-grain brands for me, some corn-syrup-laden-cartoon-character business for my husband, and a couple of kid-friendly healthy cereals for my son.  Theoretically, we could all eat the same kind of cereal (Honey-Nut Cheerios would probably be the intersection of our collective sweet spot) but there are so many options out there, why bother to compromise?

The other day in the grocery store I counted 164 kinds of cereal.  And I’m not including hot cereals.  164.  Now, I’m all for having choices and I know that I should feel privileged to live in a country where we have the freedom to choose exactly which cereal best fits our individual needs, blah, blah, blah.  But I do think there’s a gray area between, say, abundant choice and piggish consumerist overindulgence.

I think this dilemma of too much choice is the hardest on kids.  Kids today have so many options in a whole variety of things—from afterschool activities and sports to brands of sneakers and energy drinks—that it can be overwhelming at times because all of these choices are SO! DARN! EXCITING!  It’s like being in Times Square and not knowing where to look.

But I think the real problem is, that in a culture of infinite choices, you don’t really need to make a choice at all because you can always try something else on for size.  Download a new song, then decide you don’t like it—move on to the next band.  Think you might love that new Pepsi One then realize you’re more of Coke Zero person—that’s okay, try again.  We’ve added so many options in our consumer culture that the moment of reflection when making a purchase is no longer necessary.  Why bother to think when we can just have?

And I can’t help but wonder if this kind of carelessness has had an impact on other stuff, like divorce rates, or  the mortgage crisis, if we’ve just become so accustomed to making disposable choices, we’ve lost our ability to choose what’s truly right for us.

Don’t get me wrong; I like having options as much as the next guy.  But, I’d be hard pressed to find a reason why any store needs to offer 36 (yes, this is a real number) different kinds of toilet paper.

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