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Science News

The Paradox of Choice 537

Posted by Hemos
from the so-many-options dept.
sproketboy writes "Psychology professor Barry Schwartz has written a book which is a must read by those wanting to get Linux on the Desktop. Dr. Schwartz examines the problem of too much choice in our society. Maybe Microsoft has it right after all? Here's a video interview with Dr. Schwartz, a review of the book from the New Yorker and more info from PBS." Of course, the choice issue applies to far more than desktop computers, but is still instructive in that area. Thanks to Stefan Hudson for a SciAm story that has more information.
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The Paradox of Choice

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  • by -Surak- (31268) * on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:06AM (#8703795)
    Looks like link this was going to be included in the article, but something got messed up. Sciam digital subscription required for the full article, unfortunately...

    Scientific American: The Tyranny of Choice [ PSYCHOLOGY ] [sciam.com]
    Logic suggests that having options allows people
    to select precisely what makes them happiest. But, as studies show, abundant choice often makes for misery
  • by toupsie (88295) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:08AM (#8703819) Homepage
    Apple used to have a massive product line with dizzying list of model numbers. Not only did it confuse customers but it also brought down quality and delayed shipping of many of the models. Now you can just buy a notebook (iBook and PowerBook) and a desktop (eMac, iMac & PowerMac) from Apple. Sure you can supe up the basic model they sell but you are still buying a standardized item.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:08AM (#8703827)
    Missing end quote in the referance link from Stephan...
  • by NineNine (235196) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:11AM (#8703848)
    But the thing is that with Linux, you can always back out to Windows, which in this day and age, is just a fine choice. So if I'm gonna install Linux, then be presented with 13 web browsers, 3 desktops, and 5 office suites, I'm much more likely to throw up my hands and say "fuck it" and re-install windows, then to try to deciper everything in Linux. Each distro should just pick out the best, and leave it at that. Not only do I not need a dozen web browsers, I don't *want* a dozen web browsers. This makes total sense.

    I run a retail store. I have a large number of products that cover one particular need. Without help, customers just get overwhelmed and leave. We have to ask them what they need, and help them make a decision. Same thing with Linux, except that there's no help. You install a distro, get 1000's of programs, 95% which are useless to the user, and they get overwhelmed and bail.

    Unless some expertise is offered (ie: each distro picks ONE office suite, ONE browser, ONE desktop, etc.), it's just too much to deal with, and completely unnecessary.
  • by Incoherent07 (695470) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:19AM (#8703962)
    I agree. And even if each distribution picks, say, 1 standard software package to put in an "average Joe" version, you still have to pick a distribution, which isn't exactly the most straightforward choice when there really isn't any means of comparison (everything's so customizable that it really doesn't matter a whole lot, but it looks like it does).

    The reason the average person doesn't switch to Linux is a lot like the reason the average person doesn't build their own computer; not because it's hard, but because it gives you too many choices (hard drive, motherboard, processor, case, etc.), and most people would rather just pick up a box that they can plug in and use.
  • Re:Wow... (Score:3, Informative)

    by thenextpresident (559469) on Monday March 29, 2004 @12:01PM (#8704455) Homepage Journal
    I actually saw this on TV yesterday (on the show "Daily Planet"), and it's clearly apparent you didn't see it at all.

    Basically, the idea is not to take away all choices from you, but to limit the choices to a respectable number. This is NOT a new idea. Your choice of Windows or Linux is not a problem. The problem, as was explained, is like when you try to choose a cereal. You have over 200 different brands. It becomes overwhelming the number of choices. It's also like wine. Walk into a SAQ (Canadian alcohol store), and you have many, many choices.

    The idea is that when you have so many choices, if you end up picking the wrong type, it's "your fault". However, if you only had, let's say, 10 choices, it would have been the "stores fault". Obviously, blaming yourself constantly is a problem (and that was the point of the story). People that are constantly looking for the best choice in certain areas will more likely be disappointed, whereas people looking for "good enough" are more likely to be satisfied (maximizers and satisficers are what they are called).

    It's a good story, and covers what most people are missing. They suggest that obviously, if you remove choices, you will remove choices people may care about.

    But the interesting thing is that no one cares about everything. There are some people who don't care about what Oil they use (as long as it says 10W-30), but some people do. If you walked into a store, and they only had one brand, you might not care. But you would care if the only offering for a video card was Windows. Of course, it could also be the other way around for someone else.

    So essentially, the report isn't saying that choice is bad, but saying that too much choice isn't necessarily good. And that too much choice can in fact be bad.
  • by KevinKnSC (744603) on Monday March 29, 2004 @01:39PM (#8705743)
    Anyone interested in Rich Dad, Poor Dad should also check out this site [johntreed.com]. Now back to your regularly scheduled discussion.
  • by turtleshadow (180842) on Monday March 29, 2004 @05:03PM (#8708076) Homepage
    Go out and read the Technological society, The Technological Bluff (J. Elluls) and Technopoly (N. Postman).

    Most choices given by technological progress are an illusion.

    Yes we today have 100's of automobiles to choose from but the choice of a mule or horse has been irrevokably removed in the name of technological progress.

    This is despite the fact a mule and horse _can_ cross the Nevada desert unlike so many autonomous and piloted vehicles covered recently.

    Most Payroll is now done by software and is rarely done by hand to the point I would say business has lost sight of a key process in favor of technological smoke and mirrors. Now we get into areas of how many hours the finance dept can "float" payroll offshore to avoid taxes or keep interest accruing then process it at the last moment. Only technological advances could give us such dangerous practices on a core process of business.

    In effect Jacques Elluls and Neil Postman conclude in their books that technology beats you down to accepting the only choice, the one prefered is technologically the one forced upon you.

    What Freedom!
  • by greylouser (532845) on Monday March 29, 2004 @07:43PM (#8709591)
    This is why I hate Pyschologist call themself "scientist".

    So when I do an experiment in which I assign people randomly to different groups, test their memory, find that people in group 1 have better memory than people in group 2, and use that empirical evidence to falsify a previous model of how memory works, am I not doing psychology, or am I not doing science?

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