We have come to believe that open markets are a simple balance of supply and demand. A result of this balanced system is the limiting of selection (choices) to those products and services whose sale will support the costs and profits of the makers and sellers. This is why the shelves at Target have 22 blenders instead of 500. This is why restaurants have fixed menus and soft ice cream only comes in three flavors.
There is one other reason that is often overlooked: we hate to choose.
There is currently much chatter in the media, especially on the Internet, that the barriers are coming down; that we are on the cusp of the Dawn of Infinite Selection. Proponents such as journalist Chris Anderson say this is due to lower distribution costs, enabled by web catalog tools and services like Amazon.com. The catalogs of stores with customers willing to buy on the web are no longer limited by the size of the store or the shelves, or by local preferences. Through the web, everyone can buy anything that is made. Unlimited selection. If there are five million CD titles on the Planet, you can buy any or all of them through the web. May I take your order?
The trouble with this utopian ideal is this: we can only tolerate so much choice. Too great a selection is bad for us. It introduces the risk of errors (“What if I make the wrong choice?”); delay (“Let’s wait and see what Consumer Reports has to say.”), and above all, taxes our brainpower.
Whether we were born this way, or were conditioned by our economic system, it does not matter. We like to choose from Top 10 lists, shopper’s favorites, and Chef’s Specials. We really don’t care if or how these lists were drawn from the universe of possibilities. We have neither the time nor interest to judge each of the 99,988 people who auditioned for American Idol. Give us the 12 final contestants. We are pretty sure they will be good enough for us.