In the downtime of a national holiday comes a nanosecond of reflection. I’m reflecting on how hard it is to choose one option or another. It isn’t that I have too much time on my hands – would that the working professional has that – but that I, like all of us in urbanised, industrialised, technologised cultures are all experiencing a surfeit and excess of choice. 

I FRAPPUCINO, THEREFORE I AM

I watched a recent CNN documentary on coffee. You can take, for example the 87,000 different types of Starbucks coffee or “customisation journeys”. That is more variations on a theme of the simple coffee than there are actual Starbucks outlets  (if you don’t believe me, search just one, the Caramel Frappucino, and lose yourself not in calories, but options). Don’t like Starbucks? You are spoilt for choice now of big and small alternatives everywhere you look. 

Starbucks has invested in choice to keep customers. Customers think choice is  terrific. The market is asking for choice.

Want to pick a bunch of Spring daffodils? Go ahead, be my guest. Just take your pick out of 13,000 hybrids which are grown and available (listed in the helpful Daffodil Data Bank). Luckily, someone has curated that choice and that person is called a florist. But I confess to being spooked that there is that much choice and that much data around, well, a bunch of daffs. We need more and more curators and navigators in this world of choosing.

VOTE FOR WHOEVER TAKES YOUR PERSONAL CHOICE

In politics, in Britain, it used to be easy. You could vote for the typical independent candidate from the ‘Monster Raving Loony Party’ or you could vote for the big guys: Labour or Conservative. All that changed in 2010 when the distincitly third party Liberal Democrats ended up forming a coalition government with the Conservatives. 

Did we get a taste for choice? Yes we did A number of factors, not least the popularity of Xenophobia and Scottish Nationalism has meant that now, five weeks ahead of a General Election, it is literally anybody’s guess who will be the winning party or whether they can govern without choosing minor political partners and being chosen in return. Last week were seven party leaders on national television instead of three.

Last week I was even invited to a meeting which purported to be the beginning of a new political party – the 

Women’s Equality PartySet up by a formidable journalist and writer, Catherine Mayer, #wepUK is supposedly ‘for everyone’ but come on, guys, or women, I think if it ever comes down to it the cross in the box is more likely to come from one gender or another. Why? Well if you were a bloke, what would you choose?

Choice is of course, good. But what does choice mean? Does having it mean things are going well or going badly? If the idea of a Women’s Equality Party is anything to go by, women don’t feel they have much choice. Or enough of it. Although oddly, women in public life and corporate life have risen to the top of the agenda in recent years (three of those seven party leaders are women). But of course women get the least political voice and provision overall. 

SUIT YOURSELF (AND WEAR A SUIT)

I know it is unfashionable to say women could learn something from men, but when it comes to choice, it turns out we can. A recent posting on Harpers Bazaar.com by its Art Director Matilda Kahl  declared that after years of wasting time trying to choose what to wear each day she made a decision: She followed the male dress code of a suit and bought exactly the same shirts and trousers so she would have restricted freedom to determine at work what women often celebrate most about their identity: Their clothes. She wrote:  “The simple choice of wearing a work uniform has saved me countless wasted hours thinking, “what the hell am I going to wear today?” And in fact, these black trousers and white blouses have become an important daily reminder that frankly, I’m in control”.

A First World Problem? You Bet. But those of us in work, in relative affluence, in hyperconnected overdrive crave simplicity, something being reflected in the movement to de-clutter, to simplify, to avoid what the writer James Wallman brilliantly describes as ‘Stuffocation’  http://stuffocation.org

NOT WAVING, BUT DROWNING

We are drowning in options, which I know is called freedom by another name. But freedom is getting fairly overwhelming right now. We need to declutter our own freedom before we burn out or tune out completely – or worse. Good tuneout is the rise in Mindfulness, in self-help to de-clutter and connect with what matters which generally starts with breath in the body.

But what about bad tuneout? I am thinking specifically of those who run into the arms of people who deny any choice at all. Fanaticism and religeous fundamentalism are no longer ‘ over there’. In Britain we are desperately trying to stop some of our own young people leaving our land of choice for lands with no choice or arguably hope of any kind. Is there a correlation between cultural choice – the clothes, the apps, the TV Channels which are excessive, and the lack of choice many people actually have in their lives – about how they live, how to get a job, which is making us spiral out of control in both directions?

Luckily we always have one choice which is cherished. What to think. Let me know your thoughts, please: @juliahosbawm or julia@juliahobsbawm.com 

 


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