Monday, 12 March 2012

The Power Of Choice

As empowered, modern, metrosexual, humanoid things, we live in a world filled with possibilities and choice. At this point in time, everywhere you go, you are confronted with more choices than ever before in the history of civilisation. Isn’t that an exciting prospect?

Well, it should be, but something about this whole concept feels artificial and needlessly confusing. Even buying a chocolate bar can be a daunting task as your brain tries to process the sheer amount of chocolate available for purchase. Different brands and colours swirl around your pupils, creating a confectionary vortex into which you cannot escape. That’s not to mention all the spin offs and “limited edition” versions which you’re sure you’ve seen before years ago, but surely can’t have as they’re only available for a limited time. It says so on the wrapper. Just give me something chocolatey!

I started thinking about this after a routine visit to a cashpoint to withdraw some money. I popped in my card, expecting to be prompted for my PIN number, but instead I was confronted by an eerie, alien screen. Apparently, my card’s chip has “multiple functionality” and I can choose to use features from either Link or Visa Electron. Confused, I prodded at the Visa Electron button, hoping that I’d made the right choice. Then, I was asked if I was sure that I wanted to continue with my selection. I wasn’t even sure what pants I wanted to wear this morning, so how can I be sure that I’m making the correct decision when I have an ATM second guessing me?! In the end, I was escorted violently from the premises for trying to sexually assault the machine, screaming “I’ll give you a withdrawal!”

This aspect of choice permeates nearly every aspect of our lives, from watching TV to ringing customer support. TV channels offer interactive services, meaning that I can watch a snooker match from a slightly different camera angle (although, never up Steve Davis's arsehole and through his exact line of sight, down the cue, which is what viewers really want). Customer support lines offer six areas of support “to handle your call more efficiently”, then another six layers of complexity under that, effectively giving you 36 different areas of help.

The problem with this is that we’re getting spoiled. Because we’re used to television shows where we have the power to vote off people we don’t want to watch any more (albeit, at the cost of a premium rate number), and several hundred different sizes and combinations of coffee, we expect to have a full range of services at our fingertips at all times. We always think that we’re right because we’re always told that the customer is always right, even when we’re demanding free soft drinks and oral sex every time we’re put on hold in a call centre.

Companies can dress it up as “empowering our customers” and “giving our consumers power”, but ultimately, it’s an extra level of complication to try and stop us from actually complaining.

I always used to think that progress would free us from this type of micromanagement and small-scale decision making in our lives. True advancement would involve simplified processes which allow us to get on with the important things in our lives, like making prank calls, or worrying about that lump on your testicles but being too scared to get it examined in case it turns out to be a freaky third testicle, and the doctors cutting you up for medical science.  Genuine concerns such as these get pushed to the back of our priorities list when the machines are forcing to install updates on the hour, every hour, at their malevolent whim.  Those soul-forsaken circuitboards must get some sort of sadistic glee out of making humans install and reinstall updates constantly, all day long, like digital worker bees.  It's the first step towards enslavement.

We need to get our priorities right and not be beholden to this type of distracting nonsense. I’m going to start a protest about it. However, I’m not sure what form the protest should take, so I’m allowing you to create your own protest from the following options:

1) How would you like to join my protest?

A) Facebook
B) Twitter
C) Online Petition
D) Semaphore

2) Would you like the protest to be:

A) Violent
B) Peaceful
C) Loud
D) Sexual

3) What time would suit you?

A) Morning
B) Afternoon
C) Evening
D) The year 1852

Thanks for voting, but unfortunately the voting form has crashed.  Please install the latest updates.


  1. I HATE the confectionary vortex!

    What we need is some kind of leather-clad authoritarian third party to make all our decisions for us. Maybe armed with a riding crop and a supply of ball-gags.

  2. Mmmmm confectionery vortex. The most delicious of all vortexes. I've never heard of the ATM choice. As for your protest, D, D, B.
    There's a type of brain damage I heard about on Radiolab where a guy couldn't make decisions. At all. He couldn't decide anything, what to eat, how to drive, where to go, any of the million minor decisions you make in a day were crippling to him.

  3. Oh I love that question, "Are you sure you want to do this?", which suddenly makes me doubt my actions. Am I doing something wrong? Did I just elect to shred all of my money instead of withdraw it?

    Also, like a good stripper, my answer to your question is triple D's.

  4. Isn't Sexual Semaphore a band from the seventies? Yeah, I think they sang "I wanna get up in you, like stuffing in a Christmas goose." They weren't very good really.
    As for the gist of your post, I am a simple man, and I like simple choices. (Mainly due to the fact that my brain is tiny and I can't think very good.) But the "Man" inundates us with choices like a street magician waving his hand to distract us from his other sneaky hand, so he can keep us... I don't where this is going.
    Sure. I'll join your revolution. Just don't make me think to much. Or whatever.

  5. Ah, the chocolate conundrum, Im right with you there. I can stand there with a cold sweat down the back of my neck, worried that the shop keeper thinks ive been in the shop too long and might be a robber or a kiddy fiddler and thats why im hanging around the sweety aisle. nervous panic sets in and my hand starts to twitch. it reaches out without my say so and makes hesitant jumps for the blue one nono the red one nowait the other blue one all the while pondering whether i want soft chocolate, chewy, crunchy? and then i settle on a toffee crisp. Always the toffee crisp.

    i f*cking hate toffee crisp.

    why didnt i pick the lion bar?

    should have had the lion bar...

    As a side note, i met the guy who invented the Lion and he told me their secret history. its a story as shocking and dangerous as wild plug socket.

  6. I wouldn't be very good at protesting via semaphore, but I could learn.

    My vortex happens whenever I roam the frozen foods aisle in my local supermarket and stand in front of the ice cream section. I stand transfixed for three hours trying to decide which flavor of Ben and Jerry's or Haagen-Daz will go home with me.

    -Barb the French Bean

  7. I usually tell strangers to make decisions for me. If they fail to do so, I tickle them into submission.

    But, in regards to your protest, I choose Facebook, sexual, and evening because that's when I get out of work. I can catch a flight over to Europe. But, then I need to decide which airline to travel under. AH! IT'S A CATCH-22!

  8. @Ash - I experienced something similar at the weekend. I won't go into any more detail, but it was a punishing experience.

    @Pickleope - I'd love to see him try and diffuse a bomb. Especially if the bomb wires have multiple choice questions printed on them. While his girlfriend is on the phone, asking him where he wants to eat tonight.

    @Beer - That would be hilarious, if someone attached a mini shredder to the note dispenser on an ATM. Then a message appears on screen saying "enjoy your shreds".

    @Flip - Sexual Semaphore is a band? I can't wait for them to do a comeback tour.

    @Bumferry - I often come out with a Toffee Crisp too, and nearly always regret it. Please tell me how they invented Lion bars (especially if it involves minced lions).

    @The Beans - This is what they want. They want to confuse you and leave you with no choice but to buy ALL of them.

    @Chiz - I tickle people into submission too, but that's a sex thing. Anyway, don't worry because I'm laying on a ferry to come and collect you. You see, by taking the choice away from you I've got you doing something proactive. Now, to decide which ferry company to use...

  9. This post reminds me of The Omnivores Dilemma. I'm listening to the book on tape while I clean and sew. Very interesting. I know my Mom limited her choices by doing that voluntarily simplicity thing//// Touring the A-Z list.... I'm 92 I think.

  10. @Nome - Never heard of this book before. I've looked it up, and it seems that it might make me feel guilty about some of the food choices I make. Still, might be worth a look, thanks!

  11. I choose to always be protesting.

  12. Too many choices to protest. *giggle*
    Stopped by early for the A to Z challenge.
    Giggle, Laugh, Cry

  13. I just hate Multiple Choice questions.

    I will just sit in a corner, chew on a blade whilst my brain hemispheres collide.


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