The two-part article “Too much bloody choice!” (published on 21st and 28th February 2020) ignited an impassioned discussion in the Harlequin team. We wondered whether it was an issue that affects all sections of the population or just the 50+ generation. Therefore, we were curious to hear the younger generation’s view. We are very happy to post a guest contribution by Ricarda Fillhardt, who looks at the “agony of choice” from a different perspective. Ricarda is a student and currently lives in Edinburgh.
I certainly doubt an excess of choice makes us happy. Just last week I spent so much time trying to decide what to watch on Netflix that it was too late once I had (semi-content) settled on a film and went to bed instead. I also recently decided to treat myself to a wellness day on my birthday and must have spent hours on tripadvisor trying to find the best option in the vast amount of saunas and wellness centres my home town had to offer. However, this rarely occurs to me as a problem. I grew up with choice.
When I go to my favourite ice cream shop I have made my decision – cone over tub because of waste reduction, chocolate curls because they are my favourite of all the sprinkles (and admittedly I had to decide that the first time I went there). The ice cream is either a new flavour which sounds tasty or mint-chocolate-chip. And if any of these choices is not available? Well, turns out that is an excellent opportunity to befriend the shop keeper and learn about their sprinkles, flavours and how to best recycle their cups.
That is not to say it is always enjoyable. Sometimes I am so tired of all the options, choices and especially expectations that are related to them. And I am also well aware that in the end it is all about consumerism. The more choice the more gets bought. (I am sure the process is a bit more difficult than that but I am not an economist). Clothing shops are bursting with choices, so many dresses, tops, trousers. All in ten different colours and two different collections per season. It gives me a headache every time I go into one, and it is all about providing so much choice that I definitely cannot leave without two new shirts, three skirts and a bag. But of course I need them all, because they all look different and I need to be able to choose again between them every morning…
So now it gets complicated, in order to have less choice in my closet and follow my goal to be environmentally friendly I have to actively choose not to choose. I feel, all I can do is decide where my energy should be spent. What is important to me? And where can I surrender for today, go with the flow and just choose the first ice cream flavour that I see without worrying whether the one next to it would have been better.
Also, regarding expectations: career advisors, lecturers, friends, parents.. I know you mean so well but please do not expect me to choose my career right now. Let me take the wrong train to somewhere. I am privileged in so many ways of my life, and I have the privilege to choose so much. But I luckily also have the privilege to make mistakes (and I am well aware not everyone does). So why is it I have to decide on exactly what I want to do? And why is it that the system is so complex its nearly impossible to make the right choice yet it will be entirely my fault if I do so?
Sociology has a concept for that phenomenon: individualism – and some aspects are frustrating. For my masters I currently try to slightly change fields (from Film studies to International Politics). The jump is not as far as the topics at first suggest. Yet, going back to my home country Germany for the masters is unlikely as changing fields is still a difficult undergoing. Because obviously I could have predicted my entire future career with 18, right? Instead, I have to stay in Scotland during uncertain Brexit-times. Then again, in this instance the choice was taken from me and apparently I do not like that either.
Brexit is by the way also an excellent example of the danger of letting everyone choose. Because life is too complicated to know all repercussions in all areas and so we cannot expect everyone to make an informed choice on all matters. Has everyone who voted for Brexit wished for or anticipated that I currently feel unsure about my future in the country of my choice? Probably not, but that does not change it. When I choose ice cream I am not massively hurting anyone (my vegan friends would definitely disagree by the way), but when it comes to the economy, politics, career choices the stakes get so high we can either go crazy or stop caring. And even there I have to choose!
So yes, choice is difficult. It gives me a headache to see all those colours in clothes shops. It stresses me to think I have to decide right now what I will do with my life for the next 50 years. And it makes me angry to think that consumerism is tricking us into all those needless choices instead of just giving all of us a break. But there is a choice about who I am. Not what I do, what I study, what I watch, eat or buy. But fundamentally who I am. Individualism also means I can express my individual self and not be dictated by society.
For example, in my studies and luckily through many of my friends I got introduced to the concerns of the LGBT community. Binaries can be a dangerous field when it comes to gender. It limits our expressions of ourselves, and in many cases represses our true identity. Unfortunately, the opposite of complex is over-simplification. I do not want to be simplified, I want to be seen with all my true colours. An abundance of choice has made this so much easier. So, I would say, yes, please give me choice. But let me choose what decision I make today.