If There are 32 Different Types of Colgate, How Can I be Expected to Care About Anything Else? The Paradox of ‘Choice’

15 06 2012

There are thirty-two different types of Colgate toothpaste, JUST Colgate toothpaste. Add to that seven different Maclean’s, thirteen Sensodyne and a few more from Aquafresh, Arm and Hammer and the like and before you know it you find yourself in Tesco’s with 126 different varieties of toothpaste to choose from.

I think that we have too much choice, I think that we spend such a large amount of our time making decisions as consumers that it

Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuum???

stops us from engaging properly with the reality of the world around us, blinds us to the truth and stops us from acting as free thinking individuals and active members of society. How many people reading this define themselves by the material decisions they make, be it buying a house or a car or a suit or a bra, we all symbolise our individuality though the things we consume.

The thing is, that everything we consume is pre-determined, from our politicians to our iPad’s. At some point someone we don’t know and we will never see has decided that this politician or this piece of technology or this product is suitable for the market place. When I make my choice from the thirty-two different types of Colgate amongst the 126 different types of toothpaste on the supermarket shelf, I understand that it is not really my choice, someone is dictating a series of ‘choices’ to me that have been deemed acceptable by some perceived higher being.

I don’t mind choice, it is a great thing, but I feel as though today it is used as a weapon to neutralise people to the point where you can have a large degree of control over that population. I believe that we have so many consumer based decisions to make on a day-to-day basis that it stops us from even wanting to discuss issues or make real decisions about the future of our society. I believe we need to step away from using materialism to assert our individuality and go back to the search from enlightenment, knowledge and understanding, which is where true individuality lies.

I’m going to run you through a plausible half-day in my life (a full day would be exhausting) from a decision-making point of view, hopefully you’ll start to see what I mean, we have a lot to think about us modern humans.

The alarm rings, I stir momentarily from my slumber and then it hits me, my first choice of the day. Do I snooze or do I jump out of bed? I must decide whether to shave or not to shave, to poo now or to poo later? And all before I have even showered. I do not have a huge wardrobe but even so I have three or four ‘favourite’ pairs of jeans/trousers to choose from, three suits, about the same number of jumpers/hoodies and around ten T-shirts and Shirts to choose from each time I wake. Then there’s the underwear and footwear. You can see why it takes some people ages to get ready in the morning, that’s a lot of choice first thing.

Then there is breakfast, freaking breakfast! With its cereals and its toast and hot cross buns and crumpets and bacon and eggs fifteen million different ways and its preserves and spreads and breakfast bars and that’s just the food!! Do I have it with Coffee or Tea or juice or water? And if I have it with tea or coffee do I want an espresso, a macchiato, a cappuccino, an earl grey, a green tea, a spiced chai, a builders tea, a Latte, a Fartte, PG Tips, Twinings, a Nescafe, Nescafe Gold Blend, Nescafe Decaffeinated, a Nescafe Re-caffinated Decaffeinated Reconstituted Arabica Pot-Roasted Dongleblaster? I think my head just exploded and it is not even eight o’clock.

Get in the car, need petrol. There are three petrol stations between here and the station, each selling two different types of unleaded petrol at six different prices. When did petrol stop being petrol? Now I feel guilty every time I fill up with the cheap stuff instead of the ‘fuel save’, which I am told gives my engine a loving hug and increases its life-span and mileage, but even for petrol this stuff is expensive so I go with the ‘cheaper’ option. I can’t even look my car in the face as I fill it with this plonk. Someone’s going to have a hangover in the morning.

When making my payment I remember that I need some cigarettes, again the choice is endless. At different times in my life I have smoked Marlborough ‘Lights’, B&H Silver, Silk Cut (purple, blue and sliver), Camel ‘Lights’, Cutters Choice, Golden Virginia, Amber Leaf and the odd one from various other well established cancer delivery devices. Luckily the cigarette is one of those decisions that comes quickly to someone who has smoked for longer than I care to remember, my relationship with certain brands is deep and irrational so it is an easy decision, but a decision nonetheless.

Even Billionaire Burns has had to struggle with seemingly simple choices once in a while

Just as I am paying, the bastard cashier’s training kicks in and he offer’s me a free sausage roll if I buy a large coffee. And even though I have already had a bowl of cereal covered in cold espresso, this seems too good an opportunity to pass up, so I grasp the chance (and a napkin) with both hands and head off to the station.

On parking at the station I am confronted with yet another series of annoying choices. I am only popping into work for a few hours so I don’t really need to pay to park for the whole day, but I don’t want to have to rush back. As I decide to just pay for the whole day, I notice that it is cheaper to pay for the week and as I’m coming in every day, maybe I should take that option. Just as the weekly ticket is printing, I remember I’m staying at the girlfriend’s house twice this week, which means traveling from a different station. Great! Six quid pissed away and it’s still only 8:30.

Arriving on the platform I notice that the next train stops at every station, but there is a fast train ten minutes later that is less stop-start. Do I get on the first train or the second? Will the fast train cut more than 10 minutes out of my journey? Which one will arrive first? Why didn’t I check this before I went to bed last night? I decide to check my iPhone for some enlightenment, but wait, do I use Tube Deluxe or the First Capital Connect website? In the end the first train arrives before I have time to work it out and in my anxiety to get off the platform I jump on, which as it turns out, arrives five minutes after the second train, FFS!!!

Arriving on the Platform at Kings Cross I notice that I can turn left to exit or turn right, my gut tells me to go right, yet everyone else seems to be going left. Do they know something I don’t? Is there a quicker way out of this blasted station?

No. No there isn’t, at every tunnel junction I am confronted with two possible exit routes out of the station, at each junction I pause trying to work out which exit will get me out close to York Way. I recognise the Pentonville road exit and go for it, but it turns out this exit is shut during peak hours, so I turn and make my way back into the maze that is Kings Cross Station.

After a ten minute sprint around the station and up York Way, I finally arrive at work, sweaty and already with a head full of bullshit decisions made. I get settled at my desk and get on with my day. The morning passes without incident, no inane choices rear their ugly head until it hits 12:30 when the mind begins to wander off for lunch….

I could go to the coffee shop downstairs, but I don’t really like anything they serve, there’s Prett just down the road, but that will be heaving at this time and they have way too much choice. I’m loathed to eat McDonald’s, I always order too much and it always makes me feel sick. Then there’s the Kebab shops, Sandwich shops and Gregg’s. Bloody choice!

As always I end up in Prett staring blankly into a wall of Tuna baguette’s, Salads six different ways, hot wraps, toasties, fruit salads, slices of cake, pastries and a seemingly endless selection of beverages both hot and cold. Fuck this, I just wanted something to eat, I grab a particularly boring but safe looking cheese, ham and mustard toastie, a bottle of water and a lemona…apple juice and head to the counter. “Will you be eating in or taking away? Paying by cash or card? Is there anything else I can do for you today?” Yes. Stop with the bloody questions, it’s my freaking lunch break!!!

I think we can leave it there, I’ve made my point, and I don’t know about you but I’m already exhausted, and I haven’t even touched

They say keep your options open, but how do you then know when the right one comes along?

on any of the numerous ‘big’ decisions we have to make day-to-day. Which plonker decided that more choice was the most desirable thing to humanity?

Now don’t get me wrong, broadly speaking I think that choice is largely a good thing. I don’t like the fact that I only get to ‘choose’ between one out of touch, spineless politician and another at elections, but I am neither arrogant nor stupid enough to fail to recognise that I am lucky to have the choice at all. What I am asking is this; have we reached a point where we have too much choice? Have we reached a point where the need for choice has been placed above the idea of freedom and therefore is beginning to infringe on our ability to act as free thinking individuals?

I suspect it has, but I can only know what I know, think what I think and feel what I feel. I cannot speak for the rest of you. Do you ever feel like you don’t have the energy for the big decisions? Do you ever find yourself putting off the urgent task for something that seems important, but as it turns out just made it all the harder to successfully complete the original task? Do you ever find yourself agonising over any purchasing decision, no matter how big or small, wasting time that could be spent doing what you actually want to be doing?

If you answered yes to any of these (and I suspect most of us will have to all), then you may well be suffering from Toomuchchoiceous syndrome. I am afraid that there is no known cure, although I do hear Colgate are working on a mouthwash to tackle the problem and should be releasing it in twelve different flavours just in time for Christmas…

I’ll leave you with this guy, Barry Schwartz, who explains the paradox of choice far more eloquently than this confused ape can…

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