Opinion | More choices don’t mean a better life

By Sandhya Sivakumar, Columnist

It’s clear that we have a saturation of choice. Let’s say I want to get some coffee before my 7pm final. I could go to Starbucks, Espresso Royale, Einstein Bros, McDonald’s, Panera Bread, as well as any of the several bubble tea shops, independent coffee shops, County Market, and more. 

It’s not something that we really think about on a daily basis—most people have an algorithm for making these daily decisions. Get the cheapest option at the grocery store. Get the kind that your mom always gets. Go to the place that’s closest. Bring a friend who’ll make the hard decisions, like where to get lunch, for you. 

But every day, we are constantly choosing between options, and that means we’re constantly weighing costs. 

On the surface, it feels good—there are so many options out there for everything, so there has to be an option that’s just right for you. Whether that’s salad dressing, a wedding dress, a mortgage or a healthcare plan, there has to be an option out there that will work for you—you just have to do the work to find it.

But it’s impossible to do that work for every choice that you have to make. You can’t spend six hours on Consumer Reports trying to figure out which loaf of bread to buy. To move forward, to make a choice, you almost always have to settle for the best option within your reach. Yet making that choice comes with a lifetime of being on the lookout for the better version of the things we have, because we know it has to be out there. 

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    Of course, part of being human is making choices, and living with the consequences of those choices. Choices like who you’re going to spend your life with, and where you’re going to spend it aren’t new, and neither are choices like what you’re going to eat for dinner or what outfit you’re going to wear in the morning.

    What’s new is how many choices we have, and how often we have to make them.

    And in reality, having all of these options doesn’t make life better. Choosing between a million different clothing stores that all sell shorts for the same price as jeans isn’t making my life better, and it’s definitely not making life better for the factory workers that are being pushed harder in worse conditions to keep up with the demands of fast fashion. 

    One of the worst consequences of this “max choice yields max freedom” mindset is the idea that you’re better equipped than an expert to make decisions about things you don’t know anything about. For example, healthcare. 

    In the debate on the respective benefits of private and public insurance, a huge sticking point for Republicans and centrist Democrats has been that the American people want to be able to choose their insurance plan. 

    I can barely choose what I want to get at Cocomero. I don’t want to wade through the intricacies of the American healthcare system just to pick an insurance plan that’s mediocre at best. I might try, but in the end, I’m probably either going to pick the plan that’s the cheapest, or the one that my mom says I should get.

    When there are too many choices, we’re almost always going to go with the path of least resistance, and that’s what companies are banking on. It might feel like you’re just going with the flow, just taking things one day at a time. But the flow isn’t random. It’s carefully curated by companies that know that max choice means max profit.

    Sandhya is a junior in LAS. 

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