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Reflections #10

Reflections #10
Photo by Jens Kreuter / Unsplash
A world of infinite choice

412 television channels. 85 genders. 18,000 movies and shows on Netflix. 7.9 million streamers on Twitch. 3.7 million new videos uploaded to You Tube daily. I have often spoken about how modern life lacks coherence and meaning: I think one of the reasons is that our lives have become cluttered with infinite choice and endless options, limitless products to choose from and a continuous stream of digital content that just goes on forever. The paradox of choice is a theory that states that while we have many options available to us it is harder to make a decision and even harder to feel content and satisfied with our decision. And this can apply to virtually anything: travel destinations, soft drinks, television shows, bars of soap, desserts, genders, clothes, cuisines, air freshener, sweets, furniture. Almost anything now has limitless options and endless variations. While having all this choice and variety may seem satisfying (on a superficial level at least) it ultimately leaves us unfulfilled, confused and mentally overwhelmed.[1] Being overwhelmed by all the options and not being able to make a decision even has a clinical name, “decision paralysis”.

The world of infinite choice owes a lot to modern capitalism which is predicated on two things that people of all persuasions and backgrounds generally like: low prices and lots of choice and variety. There are countless versions of your favourite movie trilogy: the limited-edition version, the HD version, the 25th anniversary commemorative boxset with postcards, booklets, trinkets and more. I don’t think any of these variations actually brings us any closer to the art but they make us feel as if we are closer and that’s the point. Even everyday products follow the same logic. We now have infinite varieties of soap, shampoo, herbal teas, breakfast cereal, bookmarks, post-its, toothpaste, you name it. I would not deny that products differ on a case-by-case basis, of course, some things will have more utility and value than others but do we really need hundreds of options for paper clips and sticky notes? I think not.

“I’ll have the paper variety please”

Gender dysphoria never used to be a thing, it is barely older than me, but now it is clinically recognised in many countries across the developed world and this is hardly surprising when we consider that there are now over 80 different genders according to Wikipedia. From genderfluid to ipsogender, from omnigender to polygender it is a long, disorientating list. These are symptoms of a culture that is unsure of itself, a culture in crisis.

Who remembers Magic Eye from the 90s? Be honest now.

I am not sure if anything represents the idea of infinite choice better than modern television. There are now over 480 channels in the UK (though estimates vary considerably), Sky dominates the field and it is no understatement to say that the media conglomerate’s marketing strategy is one largely based on the concept of ‘more is better’. Thanks to the wonders of satellite television, we now have channels dedicated to horse riding, Islam, SpongeBob, jewellery, transport and more. One simple question lingers: why? I grew up with four television channels but what we have now is oversaturation to the point of absurdity.

Thanks to the growth of social media, the virtual world bombards us with a continuous stream of content customised especially for us. People scroll endlessly in order to satisfy their whims and desires. Platforms like Tik Tok, Twitter, Instagram and many more work on the same principle that you can scroll on forever and never run out of content. It is almost as if we have all become human scanners, trying to process all the content made available to us. Even once you have found your desired content you are given limitless options: do we like, follow, share, comment, subscribe or reply, or do we just do them all? There are apps for everything from ones that let you pop virtual pimples (Pimple Popper) to an app that creates fake conversations (Fake Chat) and even an app called Nothing that is a blank screen and does, well, nothing.[2]

The usual suspects

Even people themselves are subject to the rule of infinite things. The world of influencers, be they Instagram models, OnlyFans creators, live streamers and others, is boundless as well. Twitch had 7.9 million live streamers in March 2024 alone [3]: what are they all doing and what are we doing watching them? Meanwhile, You Tube has 3.7 million new videos uploaded daily.[4] On that note, nothing encompasses the world of infinite choice better than dating apps. As loathe as I am to even mention them, these are predicated on the choice and abundance of people to choose from. However, a lot of the research shows how users are growing increasingly dissatisfied with these app with a small minority reaping the benefits while the rest are trapped in this merry-go-round of non-stop swiping and tedious conversations with people who they are statistically unlikely to ever meet.

Twitch had 7.9 million live streamers in March 2024

It should be pointed out that the world of infinite choice parallels the world of endless consumption. The idea of endless consumption probably merits an article all to itself, but it cannot be denied that mass production leads to mass consumption, it is a never-ending feedback loop whereby one cannot exist without the other.

The world of infinite choice has led to less satisfying engagements, frivolous interactions and endless consumption. In order to achieve a deeper understanding of both life and ourselves we need fewer things; we need to understand that “less is more” and that virtue comes with restraint and peace comes with simplicity. For a more enriching experience with our art, our passion, the people around us and even ourselves we need to abandon the culture of infinite things.

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