Reading: the paradox of choice


Last night, I listened to a TED talk by Barry Schwartz who gave a brief summary of his book, The Paradox of Choice.  Essentially he put forward the theory that when Western industrialised societies want to maximise the welfare of their citizens, they generally maximise individual freedom. And the way they  do this is through maximisation of choice. One of his examples regarding the sheer volume of choice we have was the fact that his local supermarket sold 165 varieties of salad dressing. Whilst he recognised the positive aspects of choice, the talk focused on the negatives. First he claimed that too much choice leads to consumer paralysis, we can’t make decisions. Secondly, we are less satisfied with our choices because if they turn out not to be perfect, we regret not choosing one of the other options. Thirdly, our expectations are so much higher that dissatisfaction is inevitable. It was a short TED talk about a substantial topic, but very interesting and funny too:  “the secret to happiness therefore is low expectations”. was my favourite line.  Right now I am trying to figure out a technology purchase and paralysis is definitely the right word. Here is my very own paradox of choice:

My latest degree module is about to come to an end and finally I will be able to read “normally” again. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed reading every one of the 10 set books included in the module , particularly Voltaire’s Candide, Charlotte Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners, but after endless hours of close-reading, annotating, analysis and essay writing, I just want to read a book from cover to cover just for pleasure. As you know I live in Indonesia and getting hold of the latest bestsellers (like Dan Brown) is relatively easy in fact, but getting hold of decent books is another story (no offence Mr Brown). So I have decided to make use of technology and buy either an e-reader or mini tablet that will allow me to read and store a lot of books. (A friend here has also introduced me to the wonder of Torrents….. say no more!).

Well, I’ve now spent what seems like hours researching my options. Do I buy a tablet or an e-reader? Do I choose the basic Kindle, the Paperwhite or the Kindle Fire? Do I choose something other than Amazon? Is Kobo good? What about Sony? This exercise has driven me completely nuts as there are so many reviewers out there, all of whom have different opinions. I’ve read forums, watched comparison videos on YouTube and I am no closer to making a decision. Friends tell me that they all pretty much the same really and you just have to decide what you want. Just like that. Easy. Well, it’s not easy and as Mr Schwartz correctly pointed out, what if I make the wrong decision and I don’t like the e-reader or tablet, what then?

Now I know that I’m extremely lucky to have so much choice and I shouldn’t moan especially as I saw a documentary on the technology waste-product ‘mountains’ in China and how they are polluting lakes, rivers and people’s lives and various other documentaries about deprivation in Africa. Maybe I just won’t buy one and will just read them on my lap-top. Oh but the screen makes my eyes tired and the battery is defunct so I’ll need a new adapter for my bedroom. Okay so I can’t read at night, I’ll have to read before I go to bed, but I don’t like doing that. Okay so just use your IPod, but the writing is so small it’s impossible to read quickly… well just slow down.. I hate that…

*Sally has signed off and is resting in a dark room somewhere, trying not to think.


Categories: Just Plain Blog

3 replies

  1. I have a Kindle 3G (I think that’s the name) and I’m very happy with it, as you can alter the size of the font and jump from chapter to chapter by pressing a key (should you need to check for annotations, etc) and highlight texts you might need to go back to. I can also download newspapers on it, which come straight in the morning, no matter where I am, and it’s much cheaper that the paper version. Buying books from Amazon is very easy and it only takes a few seconds. Think about the space you’ll be saving, especially if you’re travelling. I can’t speak for any of the other gadgets you mention as I have never used them. The kindle is also very cheap to buy compared to all the others. Good luck and let me know what you choose. Happy reading. 🙂

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