How to maximize choice?

Use this philosophy forum to discuss and debate general philosophy topics that don't fit into one of the other categories.

This forum is NOT for factual, informational or scientific questions about philosophy (e.g. "What year was Socrates born?"); such homework-help-style questions can be asked and answered on PhiloPedia: The Philosophy Wiki. If your question is not already answered on the appropriate PhiloPedia page, then see How to Request Content on PhiloPedia to see how to ask your informational question using the wiki.
Post Reply
User avatar
New Trial Member
Posts: 6
Joined: March 2nd, 2017, 5:34 pm

How to maximize choice?

Post by ThalesOfAthens » March 12th, 2017, 12:53 pm

If you wanted to maximize the possibility of choices in a society, how would you do it, and would it be worthwhile?

There are around 42,000 different items available in a typical grocery store in modern industrialized nations. [1] Is having another twenty flavors of yogurt actually an increase in real choice, or just the illusion of real choice?

We could imagine passing a law where every single item placed on a shelf in a grocery store had unique packaging, and also unique contents, with randomized “organically formed” labelling using artificial intelligence and tweaked amounts of ingredients in each preprocessed food. This would increase the “amount of choice” of the consumer even more, and the specific ingredient modifications could be available on each item for careful consideration. Is this actually an increase in choice or not?

It seems that it is a real form of greater choice. Sheena Iyenger at Columbia University conducted a study of jams with different numbers of jams available for consumers. When only six jams were available, thirty percent of the potential buyers made a purchase. When twenty four jams were available, only three percent of the potential buyers made a purchase. To rephrase this from a choice perspective- the huge number of options of jams actually decreased the ability to choose. Why?

It seems that the ability for humans to synthesize and process information is limited, and exceeding this limit means that people “give up” on the processing of choice. So in fact, more choice, in certain domains, becomes less choice.

A way to increase the amount of choice in a society it to limit the choices available to any particular person, to amounts that are comprehensible to them.

So how would you go about allowing maximization of choice in a society?

On smartphones, there are 2.2 million different apps available for download in the Android store and Apple stores. [3] It is not humanly possible to even look at these apps. If you were to only focus on the apps available now every day for 8 hours, you would have only a few minutes to download and try each app, let alone see a large portion of them, over your entire lifetime. This seems like a lot of choice. But in reality, a few of the apps get the lions share of downloads, and the rest get only a few downloads. It isn’t even possible to find out about many of the applications, because only a few become involved in the networking effect and the rest fall by the wayside. So this apparent huge choice in fact creates its own desert effect, as most all of the choice is removed by lack of ability to even find out about options.

A way to increase choice with huge numbers of options would be to have artificial “micromarkets” where apps are promoted through software to ensure each of them gets some presentation to potential buyers. Market providers would allow users to be randomly assigned a “micromarket” and then apps within that micromarket would become the predominant options, and purchases and recommendations would be reflected to all buyers in that micormarket, but not cross pollinated into nearby markets.

But is allowing better access to merchandize and applications really increasing real choice, or just illusory choice?

The important choices, those with lifelong consequences, could also be maximized. How would you do so?

[1] Food Marketing Institute
[2] When Choice is Demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing? Sheena S Iyengar and Mark Lepper
[3] Statista The Statistics Portal

Post Reply