Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

The New Yorker: Can you have too many choices?

Posted by shannonclark on March 22, 2004

The New Yorker: Can you have too many choices by Christopher Caldwell

One of the most important pieces of writing I have read in the past year. Very thought provoking discussion (while reviewing to a degree a number of books) on the topic of choice.

As an Existentialist of a sort and a hard “free willer” in my overall philosophy, choice is fundemental to my very being and outlook on life.

This is the first piece of writing I have seen that summarizes something I have intuited but never verbalized, the degree to which a multiplicity of choice is itself a not just a challenge but almost a burden. Christopher Caldwell does a great job of not just highlighting how a series of recently published books tackle this topic, but how their varying suggestions have serious impacts of their own.

My feeling is that we now live in an age where there are easily too many choices that face us all, however rather than giving up on choice alltogether, or continueing to suffer, I think it is an important choice, and one I am getting more and more in the habit of making, to be selective about when to choose, that is, delegate if you can or deal with something at the time you get it instead of waiting until you can make the “best” decisions. Leave that for those decisions that truly matter (marriage, life, death).

In my business(es) I am striving more and more to delegate, to trust that the people I am working with are smart and understand our goals and the framework within which we are opperating. If they cannot make some choices on their own, then we are not a company, but rather just me.

In my personal life I need to think more about what I worry about what I do not, not every meal has to be the “perfect” meal for the moment, not every gift the best gift ever.

Indeed a recent gift of flowers to my girlfriend showed this very dramatically. I looked at many flowers from many stores over the course of two days, finally returning to the store where I had started where I selected three very large and dramatic roses. A red rose, a multicolored orange rose and a pink rose.

This was a week ago. The red rose was dramatic and big, but also the first to die, leaving behind deep almost purple petals.

The orange rose bloomed and enlarged, but it too died, but we caught it early enough that it will dry whole and it still retains a wonderful scent.

The pink rose, which had started out the least dramatic of the three has bloomed and opened up to reveal a large and perfect rose. It had started out almost white, but has now darkened and grown to a light pink, as of this morning it was still vibrant over a week later.

My point, the “obvious” romatic choice of red roses would not, in some level, have been as dramatic as what I ended up giving, but more to the point, what I ended up giving was exactly what I had first thought about giving, but had then gone into two other stores and spent a day deciding.

Was it worth it? I have to wonder, but I also have to think that trusting my instincts is usually a good policy.

So, go, read the article and decide for yourself.

(side note – the New Yorker appears to keep articles up for a long time, but does not seem to want to share this fact with the visitors to the New Yorker website, I could not find a link to the archives anywhere)

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