Too Much Bloody Choice (part 1)

When I was a kid if you had any choice at all it was “Take it or leave it”. As time progressed, we actually got BBC Home Service (for topical events, Women’s Hour, the original soap “The Archers” and half-hour comedies), the Third Programme (heavy culture) and the Light Programme (for music Dads and Grandads appreciated) on what we called the wireless.

I can first remember being utterly flummoxed by the range of choice when visiting Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory in Vermont years ago. After an entertaining tour including us having answer questions with “moo” instead of “yes” we queued up to get ice cream. From a distance we could make out the numerous varieties, most of which were new to us then, so we pondered which to choose.

But when we reached the head of the queue we were hit with a barrage of questions: “Cup, cone or waffle? Size? With or without chocolate?” Then came the flavour (out of 18). As other customers began to get impatient with our bumbling confusion and our ices were in the appropriate containers (or not) we were about to relax when there came “Sprinkles?”, “What colour?”, “Nuts?”.

 It was no better when touring the huge food court under the Washington Railroad Station. By the time we had walked all the way round, stunned by the sheer number of possibilities we were too dazed to make a decision and left hungry.

In absolute contrast the US regulars around us negotiated the array with apparent mastery: they knew what ice they wanted minutes ago and the food stall was designated instantly. At least, that’s what I thought. Now we all have had choice, choice and more bloody choice for a while, whether it is food, TV or radio channels (for those of you not streaming or listening to podcasts), drinks, car models, or toothpaste.

Go online and pore over the possibilities on Amazon – if you have the time peruse the “more than 80,000” different cups and mugs – or for the determined bargain hunter you turn to a comparison portal like idealo or Craig’s List for a few thousand extra seductions. Take a quick look at the latest post from one of our 500 Facebook friends. But which one?

But is this “ultimate democracy” good for us? Are we confusing quantity with quality?

I will leave you, dear readers, with this question until next Friday, when Part 2 of “Too Much Bloody Choice!” follows.


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