If the users are in charge, they have more choices than before. What does this mean? More than commerce, psychology and sense of self. Esther Dyson kicked PC Forum off with an interview with Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice which was handed out to attendees an hour before. Barry introduces himself as a teacher (at Swarthmore). The book is meant to problematize the notion of user in charge.
There is an official syllogism: more freedom means more welfare, more choice means more freedom, more choice means more welfare. Look at all the choice in a super market, from 285 kinds of cookies to paper or plastic. Complexity sends people to the store asking if you have a phone that doesn't do too much.
Capability vs. Usability (Rust, Thompson & Hamilton, HBR, Feb 2006) people vastly preferred a CD player with more features (21) than not (7) even though they knew it would be harder to use. Give them the ability to build their own, they add 19 features. But people who use the 21 feature player first will choose the simpler one.
Where when and how you work is a matter of choice. Health care: the ethic of patient autonomy (Docs not telling you what to do), creates a new burden of making intelligent decisions. In intimate relations: when I was younger the assumption was get married as soon as you can and have children, the only choice being with whom. Nowadays there is no default, only live possibilities that students spend time thinking about instead of doing the work I assign. Not force to live out the identity you inheret from you family. "
Is this good news or bad news? YES!
People are so overwhelmed with choice that:
- Instead of liberating people, it paralyzes them.
- With all this choice, people may do better objectively than when there was less choice, but they will feel worse.
On Paralysis: (More options attracts attention, but doesn't attract intention). 401(k) investing for every 10 funds made available, the participation rate goes down 2%, throwing $5k down the tube each. Throwing a dart at the sheet would be benefitial.
There is regret and anticipated regret. This sucks away some of the satisfaction you should be getting with your good choice. Anticipated is worse, preventing choice. Opportunity costs. And the mental load of opportunity costs. The prospect of passing up an attractive opportunity to indulge another leads people to defer decisions. I have learned the hard way to not ask graduating students what they are going to do when they graduate. Choice also leads to the escalation of expectations. We compare results with our expectations and largely are dissatisfied. A NY Times cartoon: everything was better back when everthing was worse. Because every now and then something could happen that exceeded expectations. The secret to happiness is to have modest expectations. Self-blame: when there are two kinds of jeans it is the world's fault, when there are hundreds, it is yours. There is an explosion of clinical depression despite freedom and prosperity and I think this is a critical component.
The more options out there, the more the need for help. Technology can help:
- Provide intelligent filters, even personalized filters
- Establishing the default (a theme of last year's event). What happens when people don't choose? Libertarian paternalism is not an oxymoron. When you have to choose to be an organ donor in California, 25% are. In European countries you are by default, so 90% are. Single biggest policy change achievable with zero cost is for people to pay attention to what people choose when choose nothing, and make it in their best interest.
Unless there are constraints, a metaphorical fishbowl, it isn't possible to be anything. When there are limits, you can fulfill them. We should be paying attention to how to structure contraints to enable people to live better lives, rather than preventing them.
Next, Philip Rosedale from Second Life talks with Esther, but I found it more difficult to take notes. His primary point was in SL (as opposed to RL) you have an environment where certain costs are low to enable greater expression. That's an interesting point, something there is even a role for in business. Next next was Rediff.com and
IMHO: Technology can help, and filters and defaults are part of it. But Barry it describing a cause and effect on individual psychology, when within his discipline the closest cure besides medication (which is the most common, and dare I say, prescriptive) -- is group therapy. Your sense of identity when making decisions with choice abundance is strongly shaped by your peers. They can help, or hurt, your confidence. How can social technology embed defaults for help with choice? Isn't the social network a filter that is prescriptive for this problem? Think about how fads work to reduce the cost of choice, about how society trends towards the homogenous, for good and ill.