Brian Jackson - Fotolia

Avoiding making a waste of choice

There is a lot of choice out there but getting it right is not always easy as Billy Macinnes discovers

“Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.” – Henry Ford, My Life and Work, 1922

“UK households waste over three days a year browsing streaming services as they struggle to decide what to watch.” – Broadband Genie press release, August 2023

How many of us have spent several minutes scrolling through the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and NOW trying to find a programme or film to watch? How often has there been a family dispute over what to watch? Is there too much choice? And on the other side of the fence, how often has the algorithm failed to serve up something that we really want to watch? How often do the different options present the same choices in a different order?

I think it’s worth talking about because choice, or rather “the waste of choice” is something that permeates everything, including technology.

What does that mean, exactly? Let’s start with the waste of choice in terms of the amount of time, energy and resource expended on adding more features to a software or hardware product to differentiate it from others. The range of features can often become very extensive but many of them might be rarely used. Is the cost of including those features worth it if they are used by only a small number of people?

There’s the waste of choice for the people who buy those products and have to spend far too much time researching different ones before they can make a purchase. When the differences are frequently minuscule, that time would probably have been better spent learning how to use the product more effectively rather than debating whether a variation on feature A is worth more than a minor difference in feature B. 

Then there’s the waste of choice involved in having lots of companies engaged in developing and producing a large array of products that do more or less the same thing and offer pretty much the same features. Do we really need all that duplication of effort and production replicated by many separate vendors merely to provide us with a few more choices, many of which we will never consider or make?

What about the waste from that choice in terms of the products that don’t make it, that are abandoned, unsupported, thrown out and, in the case of hardware, end up creating real waste? Without the waste of choice, would they ever have been made, marketed and sold?

Not forgetting the wasteful process that can lead to products being relentlessly upgraded and updated far more quickly than anyone wants or needs for the purpose of adding more features and more choices. Leading to more products discarded, either from being replaced or not being sold.

There was another telling point in the press release I quoted from above, stating: “One in seven (15%) say that after looking through the content menu they often opt for something theyve seen before.”

And that’s the final waste of choice. After all that time and effort, people often end up choosing something they’ve used before or the product they would have picked in the first place before they even started the process of looking at the large range of products available to choose from.

Lastly, I hope you don’t feel that you have fallen victim to the waste of choice in reading this column.

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