Paradox of choice

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The Paradox of Why More is Less Choice
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by Barry Schwartz

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PROLOGUE. THE PARADOX OF CHOICE: A ROADMAP
About six years ago, I went to The Gap to buy a pair of jeans. I tend towear my jeans until theyʼre falling apart on my body, so it had been quite a while since my last purchase. A nice young salesperson walked up to me and asked if she could help. “I want a pair of jeans—32-28,” I said. “Do you want them slim fit, easy fit, relaxed fit, baggy, or extra baggy?” She replied. “Do you want them stone-washed, acid-washed, or distressed? Do you want them button-fly orzipper-fly? Do you want them faded or regular?” I was stunned. A moment or two later I sputtered out something like, “I just want regular jeans. You know, the kind that used to be the only kind.” It turned out she didnʼt know, but after consulting one of her older colleagues, she was able to figure out what “regular” jeans used to be, and she pointed me in the right direction. The trouble was that with allthese options available to me now, I was no longer sure that “regular” jeans were what I wanted. Perhaps the easy fit or the relaxed fit would be more comfortable. Having already demonstrated how out of touch I was with modern fashion, I persisted. I went back to her and asked what difference there was between regular jeans, relaxed fit and easy fit. She referred me to a diagram that showed how thedifferent cuts varied. It didnʼt help narrow the choice, so I decided to try them all. With a pair of jeans of each type under my arm, I entered the dressing room. I tried on all the pants and scrutinized myself in a mirror. I asked once again for further clarification. Whereas very little was riding on my decision, I was now convinced that one of these options had to be right for me, and I was determinedto figure it out. But I couldnʼt. Finally, I chose the easy fit, because “relaxed fit” implied that I was getting soft in the middle and needed to cover it up.

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When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable .... But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin toappear.
Buying jeans is a trivial matter, but it suggests a much larger theme we will pursue throughout this book, which is this: When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable. As the number of available choices increases, as it has in our consumer culture, the autonomy, control, and liberation this variety brings is powerful and positive. But as the number of choices keeps growing, negativeaspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize.

The jeans I chose turned out just fine, but what occurred to me on that day is that buying a pair of pants should not be a day-long project. By creatingall these options, the store undoubtedly had done a favor for customers with varied tastes and body types. However, by vastly expanding the range of choices, they had also created a new problem that needed to be solved. Before these options were available, a buyer like myself had to settle for an imperfect fit, but at least purchasing jeans was a five-minute affair. Now it was a complex decision inwhich I was forced to invest time, energy, and no small amount of self-doubt, anxiety, and dread.

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Tyrannize? Thatʼs a dramatic claim, especially following an example about buying jeans. But our subject is by no means limited to how we go about selecting consumer goods.

Clinging tenaciously to all the choices available...
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