Choice? What Choice?

Freedom of speech, competition, regulations. So many of these things are put into place to give us options, to give us choices. But let’s think about that for more than just an instant. Choice. What is a choice? A conscious decision to do one thing over another. Or perhaps it’s an unconscious decision based on prior experience. Or maybe, you’re even willing to admit that you just do what your friends do. So how ‘free’ and uninfluenced is this choice really? Do you really have any choices to make? Okay, no I’m not talking about fate or destiny or whatever have you. (That’s a totally different story for a completely different time.) I’m talking about the fact that perhaps choices are not something we have or really want, for that matter.

Choice, I realized recently, is not really something that many people cherish. In fact, it seems like it’s something people would prefer to avoid, as funny as that may sound. Take this for example. I’m in first year engineering so I don’t really have this issue, but students in other programs and upper year engineering students have to make decisions about what classes to choose as their electives. Of all the people I spoke to, they were either extremely frustrated or picked their classes according to what their friends were taking (who probably in turn picked what their friends were taking or picked them according to time. No one likes to get up early.) So, this seemingly important choice was either hated or made for them.

Linux. The open source operating system comes with an enormous amount of choices for every possible thing you could want to do. Enthusiasts and supporters tout the fact that there are choices with open source. Look at Windows, it comes with only one internet browser. It only comes with one media player. But maybe we should think about how many people are actually unhappy with that fact. The average person does not want to be inundated with 50 choices of MP3 players. They want one. They can only use one at a time anyways. I can only imagine sitting some friends, who are perfectly happy using Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player, down in front of a Linux install. I bet 95% of them would crap themselves at the choices. And no, not in a good way. They’d probably be so overwhelmed they wouldn’t even be able to see straight.

You walk into a restaurant. You are seated and pick up the menu only to find that the items are unfamiliar to you. What do you do? The choices that the menu presents you are pretty much useless in this case. To decide what you get, you’d probably ask someone who you think would know more and you, or perhaps you’ll just ask the waiter/waitress what they recommend. As a final act of desperation, you may even decide to do a blind eenie-meenie-minie-moe. So what are menus (choices) even for?

Well, they’re for the people who actually know what they want.

So that seems somewhat redundant. Choices are only useful when people know what they want. Well, yeah, sure that makes sense if you really think about it. The “Choice” tells you what’s available and that’s only useful when you actually know what you want. If you have no clue what you want, the choices only serve to further confuse you. Most people want to be told what to do. Most people would be just as happy with the illusion of choice as a choice itself. That’s why we have leaders and a big shortage of good visionaries at that. Those are the people who make the choices and the masses follow. If the leader is a good one, they will present the people with the illusion of choice and freedom. In reality, there are no choices to be made or all the choices eventually lead to the same end result. Society has already set you on a path that is pretty difficult to deviate from. The place you were born, the people you grew up with, how you were brought up and just about every other external influence has a near death grip on your future.

When you’re not sure what to do (in other words, when you’re not sure about a CHOICE) you can ask for recommendations. Think about what a recommendation really is. It’s a narrowing of choices and eventually the selection of the ‘choice’. But that choice was not something you relished. It was something you feared, something that kept you awake at nights and something that made you worry. This was the story of my university decision. Oh sure I had an idea of what I sort of wanted to do and as a result, the possible choices were narrowed down somewhat. But when it came down to the actual, final decision, I asked for the opinion of many people and I had the influence of teachers and my parents. In the end, it would be a lie to say I really ‘chose’ which school I decided to go to. The choice was essentially made for me. While no one forced me, I  knew what they wanted and I knew what they thought. That choice weighed on me and it destroyed me to make that decision. Even as I sit here and write this, I still think, did I make the right ‘choice’?

But that may be the wrong question. Perhaps I should ask myself if I really had a choice. There were so many influences (whether you realize it or not, think about it more next time if you’re curious) on my decision that the choice was essentially made before I even starting trying to decide.

I’m not trying to say that choices are bad or that we have absolutely no choices to make. I’m merely trying to show that people really don’t want choices. People would much rather be told what to do. It saves them so much effort and time. All the mindless flock needs is a few shepherds.

5 thoughts on “Choice? What Choice?”

  1. So what so you suggest, that all decisions should be made for us. I must say I don’t agree with very much that you said:D For example: In the case with the linux vs. windows. Windows has one mp3 player linux has fifty. These are fairly extreme cases. I personally want more than one, but can be fairly sure that within the fifty in linux there are a fair few that are complete crap (ie. barely any functionality, looks bad sounds bad etc.). I think there is no problem with someone else filtering out the total crap, objectively of course based on some sort of crap determining system, before I have a crack at them to make my decision.

    Also, asking for recommendations or help in your decision from someone with far more life/decision experience (ie. parents/grandparents) is completely fine imho. The process of a choice is not just deciding on your own with whatever random facts you might have. It is a process where variables are taken in and measured against each other. Each variable is worth more or less to you. A choice is a very labour intensive process depending on it’s size and impact as well as importance to the maker.

    Take, for example my trumpet lessons. I take lessons from as many different teachers as I can. Each teacher has a different opinion on everything about me (trumpet-wise) from my style to my posture. My job as an individual and trumpet player then, is to take in all the different opinions from people with more life/decision experience and filter out what I like and what I don’t, filter out the crap. However it must be said that some of the crap is already filtered out for me. The instituts where I take my lessons, have (assumedly) hired the people they thought best for the job (ie. uni professors). And so I must not go through lists of thousands of trumpet players to find ones to take lessons from. In this way, I develop as a player, but through my decisions, I come out as an individual. In truth as a sum of all my teachers and experiences, but different from any other in that the teachers and experiences were interpreted by me!

    Life is, in fact, the sum of the decisions we make. I, personally, find it quite interesting to analyze the choice before I make it, and then after and all the other possibilities and where they lead. Because of this fact though, there is, in effect, no real “bad choices”, it simply a new direction. Who knows where you would be if you went to UBC or University if Siberia instead, or gone on an exchange:D

    Hope this made sense…I had fun writing it anyway:D

    Nick

  2. Well, as the conclusion tries to point out, I merely think that most people don’t want actual choices. Oh there are some things that people do choose, but they are the things that people know about. And when it comes down to it, people know very little relative to, well everything. So they don’t want to make choices on most of the things they do. They’d much rather be told or at least strongly influenced.

    Just like you with trumpet(ing?), I pride myself on being able to choose computer parts and bunging them together to make a nice, well-functioning computer. I make those choices, but that’s because I know enough to make the choice.

    So maybe I wasn’t too clear (I wrote that while talking to other people and watching Lost. What can I say?) but most people prefer (I think) to have most of their choices made for them, or strongly influenced. The choices you make usually occur when you know what you want anyways. I don’t think the choice is to go to a bunch of different teachers. I think the choice is that you want many points of view, and thus, as a result, you go to different teachers. But you see, you already know you want those different opinions. That’s why you made that ‘choice’.

    I don’t know, the post was really the result of me analyzing peoples’ actions. It just seemed to me that people don’t make decisions for themselves anymore. I can’t really say whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

  3. There’s a difference between…

    “It just seemed to me that people don’t make decisions for themselves anymore.”

    and

    “…I merely think that most people don’t want actual choices.”

    I agree with the first statement and disagree with the second.

    I think that Western society is such that the majority of people want to and need to feel like they are in control of themeselves and the choices they make. However, I think society has reached a stage where even though people might want to be in control of their destiny, the social systems are so complex that it is difficult for them to actually do this effectively. Also, I think that advertisers and PR people have become very adept at making people think that (a) they’ve made their own choices on any number of issues and (b) that the choice they’ve made is the right one. The only reason this happens is because people still do want to make choices.

  4. Okay, perhaps that came out a little wrong. People definitely want ‘choice’. They just don’t want to actually go through the pain of making them. In which case, choices are pretty much pointless except to give the perception that we’re ‘free’ to do what we ‘want’.

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