Too many choices

Iím not pro-choice anymore. No, not in that major divisive, red state-blue state issue kind of way. I mean consumer choice. Doughnuts. Cars. Blue jeans. Itís a lot work trying to decide. Too much work.

Choosing used to be a good thing: Chocolate or vanilla. Maybe strawberry. Darn those Baskin-Robbins people -- you canít even buy an ice cream cone without thinking there might have been a better flavor.

I went to buy a new bike the other day. Used to be there were only two kinds of bikes for grown ups in three varieties: Regular or what we called a "ten-speed." Schwinn, Huffy, or for the high-enders, Raleigh.

And you bought it at the bike shop. Now you can go to the Wal-Mart, the bike shop, the Internet, I donít know, the 7-11?

So the bike shop guy tells me there are five basic types of bicycles: Road bike, mountain bike, touring bike, hybrid bike and comfort bike. Those categories have all kinds of sub-categories, but itís too much to list them. They donít sell anything anymore called a regular bike.

I was born during the Eisenhower administration. I bought a comfort bike.

Meanwhile, weíre having the inside of our house painted. The painters in these situations ask you to choose the colors for the rooms. Yeah, right.

I imagine there was a time when you walked through the house with the painter, pointed at walls and said, "White there. Yellow here. Blue over there." No more.

Thereís no such thing as "white" paint anymore. Itís "Mt. Saint Helenís ashes white." Or "Casper the Friendly Ghost white." "Aspen snowfall white." Every manufacturer has a paint chart with20 or 30 whites.

And there are a lot more yellows than whites. There are people now who make their living picking out paint colors for other people. We would have hired one, but how do you choose?

I was going to buy myself a new television set for the Super Bowl. Couldnít do it. Too many kinds of TVís. If you want a DLP LCD digital-ready projection HDTV with s-video and HDMI, the salesman will be happy to show you one. If you want one with two HDMIís, he can show you that too.

I actually know what all that stuff is, and I still couldnít decide. Most dogs donít live as long as the TV I have now, but it looks like Iíll be keeping it a while longer.

A ball point pen used to be a Bic. Next time youíre in Staples, take a look at how many ball point pens there are. Just ball points, not rollerballs, gel pens, fountain pens, etc.

The supermarket. You donít just buy Coke anymore. You choose from Coke, Diet Coke, Caffeine-free Coke, Caffeine-free Diet Coke, Cherry Coke, Vanilla Coke, Diet Coke with Lime, Regular Coke with Lemon . . .well, you get the point. Things donít really go better with Coke if you just want a six-pack of soda. Pepsi has as many flavors as Coke.

And over in the "gourmet" soda selection, thereís even a coffee soda from Ernest Borgnine. Marty. Commander McHale. I havenít seen a soda from Gilligan, but there probably is one.

Speaking of coffee, we are but a generation removed from when people went to the store and brought home a can of coffee. A can! Maxwell House. Chock full oí Nuts maybe.

I go to the store for coffee and come home with a bag of Sumatra hazelnut breakfast blend. Itís probably repackaged Chock full oí Nuts.

Now, I recognize that there are people who find something that works and stick with it. So they buy Bic pens, Maxwell House coffee, Coke (just plain Coke), and when they need a new TV set, they select a 19-inch Zenith. And they lead perfectly healthy, stable and fulfilled lives.

Boy, do I envy them. They are stronger than I am. Thereís a lot of things in modern American life (and my life) that I think are comparable to the TV remote control. Before we had it we didnít notice we didnít have it. But once you get used to it, itís might tough to give it up. Having a gazillion products from which to choose is one of those things weíve gotten used to.

I donít know if our lives are really better for it. Itís time-consuming to make all these choices. People wonder, "Where does the time go?" I suppose it goes a lot of places, some of them as mundane as the time and effort we spend in choosing a six-pack of cola or a ball point pen. Time may be money, but time making choices may not be well-spent.


February 20, 2005