The Agony of Choice: So Much of Everything, so Little Time…

I am a man who loves too much – a pop culture junkie always in search of my next fix. This generally comes in the form of a book, a movie, a CD, a television series or a videogame. Though this endless chase already takes up most of my time, with attempts at a social life crammed in, I am still aware that I am missing out on concerts, sports, theater, musea and countless interesting hobbies. Even in the chosen field of my obsessions, it is impossible to experience everything I would want to.

Though a large portion of the books, movies, music, series and games being flung at the general populace is not worth spending time on, there is still an ever-growing amount of ‘stuff’, past and present, that could be enjoyed immensely. It would take several lifetimes to experience it all, so we can only hope the reincarnation theory pans out. And even then they’d better stop making new ‘stuff’ for a while so we can catch up.
How do you decide what to pick and what to leave? You may have read and enjoyed certain authors, but does that mean you should go through their entire back catalogue? You might be missing out on an exciting new author if you do. Whose judgement should you trust in deciding what to read? Or should you just judge books by their cover and go with whatever lands in your path? Should you be a snob and avoid big authors, looking for hidden gems? Or should you play it safe and stick to mainstream books where you know what to expect?
There are a few recent books helpfully pointing you to the supposed good things in life, with titles like: 1001 Places/Movies/Books/Golf Courses to see/read/play before you die. You could take these as your bible and let them relieve you of the agony of choice, but that’s still a LOT of books, movies and places to get through and it takes away the joy of spontaneity.
I recently came across a book called The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, who asserts that ‘the culture of abundance robs us of satisfaction’. So far I have only read the back cover and flipped through the pages a bit. Schwartz gives advice on how to narrow down your choices in many areas of life and ignore the rest without regret. Inspired by this, I will take a deep breath, begin anew and stop wondering why I do not go to the theater more often or have not yet read or seen the Da Vinci Code. I hope to get around to reading The Paradox of Choice sometime soon. But if I do not, that would also be okay. No regrets. See how that works?

Published in the American Book Center Newsletter 2006

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