There is altogether too much choice in this world and it induces stress. Stress is bad. Limited choice is good. Let me show and tell.
The first thing to acknowledge is if you’ve made a choice and aren’t allowed to have it, then that induces far worse stress. But that’s limited freedom, not limited choice. What I am complaining about is being forced to make a choice when I don’t have, want or need to.
I am talking about:
- Supermarkets that have 15 kinds of extra-virgin olive oil.
- I just want to choose between olive, sunflower, vegetable and lard, thanks. Oh, fuckkit, I’ll go to Morrisons, ta.
- Doctors making me choose between a dozen indistinguisable triptanes to treat migraine.
- You’re the one with the medical degree, pal, you choose.
- The restaurant that says “oh, you want a vegetarian meal, tell us what you’d like and the chef will make it”.
- Yeah, but how do I know what veg you’ve got in fresh today?
There is a difference between variety and product range. Variety is something new once in a while. A wide product range is a whole aisle of shampoo. That is one of the many reasons I like Aldi – they maintain a limited core product base and introduce wierd shit every now and again. (The other three reasons are antipasti for a quid, their chocolate brioche which is dangerous, and their tribute brands which deserve a post of their own). The supermarket problem’s easy enough to deal with – I only go to Sainsburys for prescriptions, petrol and clothes. (I go to Tesco local instead, so there is no health in me. Oh, and the veg and cheese stalls in the market, so maybe there is a bit.)
The situation with professionals is harder because the government insists that the people want a fully informed choice. There are three words that are the problem, “choice”, “informed” and “fully”. How often do people suffer from nocebo side-effects? How much better to say “if anything changes that you don’t like, let me know”. You see, you pay a professional NOT to tell you stuff: you don’t pay for an hour of their time. You pay them to shut the fuckup about the 9,999 hours they have spent leading up to your appointment.
Let’s admit it: choice in our consumer society (or what used to be our consumer society) is a ritual. The purpose of the menu is to give you something to talk about in the embarrasing time before the wine kicks in. It’s not there to give you choice. If it were, then there’d be more than one vegetarian option for a start. These days I let the one I’m with do the choosing for me while I sit back and look at the other diners and the wallpaper. (Wallpaper in restaurants, now there’s a topic).
Choice is about giving us something to do while we wait for the waiter, or making us feel special when we are just another punter, or persuading us that we’ve had customer service.
So let’s hear it for smaller shops which you can nip in to and nip out of, advisors who give advice rather than explaining options, and doctors who prescribe and proscribe but don’t bloody well describe.