The abundance of choice that modern society presents us with is commonly believed to result in better options and greater satisfaction. However, author Barry Schwartz argues that too many choices can be detrimental to our psychological and emotional well-being. Through arguments based on current research in the social sciences, he demonstrates how more might actually be less.
Not more than a few decades ago, choice in most areas of daily life was actually rather limited.
For example, just one generation ago, all utilities were regulated by monopolies, so consumers didn’t need to make difficult decisions about who was going to provide their telephone or their electric service. And when it came to choosing an education, colleges usually required all students to complete two years’ worth of general education, with only some, rather narrow choices available among the courses.
But as society has advanced, the array of choices in everyday life has increased enormously. We now face a demand to make choices that is unparalleled in human history.
Today, for instance, colleges are like intellectual shopping malls, embodying a philosophy that celebrates freedom of choice above all else. Even Swarthmore College, a small school with only 1,350 students, offers about 120 different courses to meet the general education requirement, from which students must select just nine. In fact, in most modern colleges, students are free to pursue almost any of their interests.
Such abundance of choice also applies elsewhere – in utility providers, for example, where deregulation and competition in the telephone and power industries have introduced a dizzying array of options. And we’re also now presented with a massive selection of different kinds of health insurance, retirement plans and medical care.
In fact, it seems that no matter which aspect of everyday life we turn to, the amount of choices available to us has increased over the past decades.
So whether we are choosing utility provider or deciding on a career path, contemporary society presents us with a bounty of choices.