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.