Blog: Too Much Choice

Burt Ross

The other day, my bride sent me to Pavilions for what I thought would be the simplest of errands: to buy some ham and cheese.

“What could be easier?” I thought.

I walked to the deli counter and there a pleasant, middle-aged, female employee looked ready, willing and able to assist me.

“Please give me a half a pound of Swiss cheese,” I requested.

Her answer confused me, “Would you like young cheese?” I had no idea cheese came in ages. The thought of old cheese didn’t seem quite right, and baby cheese also didn’t sound appealing. I hadn’t a clue what to say and out of my mouth came, “How about some adolescent cheese?”

She smiled and my interrogation continued, “How would you like your cheese sliced?”

Instinctively I replied, “With a knife.”

The attendant realized I was way over my head and offered me a lifeline, “I mean, would you like it thinly sliced?”

“I guess so,” I responded.

Now that the cheese was taken care of, I approached the challenge of buying half a pound of ham. I was greeted with more questions, “On or off the bone? Smoked ham or honey ham or maple honey ham?” she inquired. Getting into college was easier than this process.

I finally settled on, “Whatever you like.”

I realize that choice is a good thing to a point, but we have far too much choice, and quite frankly, it doesn’t make my life any easier, but rather more confusing. I remember a time when there were basically two phone companies: AT&T for long distance and Bell for intrastate calls. How easy can it get? Now we have to select among a host of carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, et al. We have to select an Internet carrier, a mobile phone carrier, a landline carrier and all kinds of combinations of the above.

Nothing is simple anymore, even restaurant menus. Once upon a time there was a single chicken, fish or meat option. Now the variety of choices is endless. It is not enough to select an entree, you have to pick among six different ways of preparing it. The number of sauces and gravies is mind numbing. And you even need to know what the animal ate during its lifetime, how it enjoyed its life and how its life ended.

To recuperate from this non-stop exercise of making choices, I decided to go on a vacation and immediately went to the spa for a relaxing massage. Were life so simple. There no longer is anything resembling a simple massage. I was offered the option of hot stones on my back (probably created by the CIA as a means of torture), a procedure whereby some lady walks on my back (also a favorite of the CIA), a prenatal massage (I didn’t think that applied to me) and a Swedish massage (there wasn’t a Swede within 4,000 miles).

Even death demands too much choice. Do you want to go the subterranean route, or would you prefer to be deep fried, or simply deposited off the Malibu Pier?

So how does one achieve peace of mind anymore? I will tell you how. I am going to sit down and eat whatever my bride serves me for dinner and be grateful. And finally, I am going to bed where the choice is simply whether I sleep on my right or left side. That is more than enough choice for me.