Why are there a hundred kinds of toothpaste now? At the drugstore, I was overwhelmed with nearly half an aisle of it.
Toothpaste with whitening, tartar control and baking soda, gel toothpaste, striped toothpaste, and toothpaste with little sparkly bits that will supposedly freshen my breath. I just wanted good ol’ regular mint-flavoured Colgate toothpaste.
I mentioned this to my dental hygienist recently, who assured me that it was mainly a marketing ploy. She said she felt the same way about buying shampoo.
This made me think: is it possible to have too many choices? We equate more choice with more freedom, and thus greater happiness. But is this true?
It turns out that people much smarter than me had already thought about this. Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, has even written a book on the topic entitled The Paradox of Choice. Schwartz believes that more choice is not always better. He relates an experience similar to my toothpaste purchase, except he was buying jeans. Did he want easy fit, relaxed fit, boot-cut, stonewashed, acid-washed, distressed, button-fly or zipper-fly?
Schwartz finally exclaimed, "I JUST WANT REGULAR JEANS. YOU KNOW, THE KIND THAT USED TO BE THE ONLY KIND!" The young salesperson had no idea what he meant.
Whatever happened to regular, anyway? I used to be able to order a regular cup of coffee with cream and sugar. At the coffee shop, I’m now staring at a menu that looks like the arrival and departure display of a major airport. One major coffee chain even boasts that it has 87,000 possible beverage combinations!
Don’t get me wrong: we are lucky to be living in a society that’s affluent enough to offer a plethora of choices for most consumer goods. But having more and more choices isn’t always beneficial.
Schwartz contends that a greater array of choices often leaves us less satisfied after we make a decision, because we are left wondering if another choice would have been better.
It’s also a huge time-waster. I probably stood in the toothpaste aisle for several minutes before I finally chose one. In searching for a new laptop, I’ve spent countless hours on the web reading reviews.
Although it’s great to have a selection of choices, there’s a point at which it becomes counterproductive. In a world offering 87,000 possible types of coffee, I think we’ve reached that point.
Wayne Chan is a Winnipeg-based writer.
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