mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Given a choice...

There seems to be big debate on the internet these days on if it is good that we have a lot of choices. Via Mindles at Janegalt comes the horror of having to buy toothpaste - from, of course, the NY Times.

First of all, I have to say that I'm proud to live in a country where having too many varieties of toothpaste to choose from is worthy of an entire edititorial column in the "newspaper of record".

But I don't understand how people can get annoyed by having lots of choices. Obviously, there are enough people who like those choices to keep buying those products, or nobody would buy them. They must deliver features that people want, or nobody would buy them.

Virginia Postrel explains it best.

Since different people care intensely about different things, only a society where choice is abundant everywhere can truly accommodate the variety of human beings. Abundant choice doesn’t force us to look for the absolute best of everything. It allows us to find the extremes in those things we really care about, whether that means great coffee, jeans cut wide across the hips, or a spouse who shares your zeal for mountaineering, Zen meditation, and science fiction.

People tend to be passionate about different things - so they enjoy having choices in those product catagories and "satisfice" on the rest - work out a compromise that is not ideal, but good enough.

I can think of examples from real life. I have a friend who is an electronics and camera nut. He literally owns dozens of cameras, and several high-end computers, including a Sager. On the other hand, he doesn't care about cars, and views them as appliances. He drives an 8 year old Escort that has never seen a car wash and whose interior is covered by a fuzz composed of spilled soda and dust.

Meanwhile, I'm a bit of a car nut. I'm already thinking about what kind of car I will buy in 2 or 3 years when I replace my PT Cruiser. (right now, I like the Pontiac GTO and the Saab 9 2-x, two very different vehicles, but I'm sure that will change by the time I buy a car, especially since the 9-2x will probably be replaced soon). My desktop computer, on the other hand, is 3 years old and will probably last me another year or two.

Another aspect is that people like variety in many of the products they purchase. There are people who have their regular brand of products that they buy all the time, but there are others who will occasionally "treat" themselves to a different variety or a more expensive product than they normally buy. The variety of products out there means you can drink Folger's during the week and Millstone on Sunday morning.

And sometimes people have very specific life situations that make a product ideal, even though most people don't need that much variety in their lives. My sweatpants quest comes to mind. Somewhere, there is someone who really wants a whitening toothpaste that is a gel and tastes like lemons. Why should they not get it because some NY Times person has a friend who doesn't know what they want in a toothpaste?


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