There was a video on TED called “The paradox of choice.” I have never agreed with this idea that more options make the choice harder. I have criticized it a while ago on Facebook, but today I share my understanding of its mechanics.

The number of things I can think of at any given moment is limited. When I come at work, I focus on work things, and I put aside everything else. It works like a desk: it has a limited surface, and when it’s full, I have to take something away before I can add something else.

I need to make a choice when I have problem and more than one solution. When the range of solutions gets big enough, “my desk” becomes full, and the problem itself drops off.

And when this happens, I loose the details of the problem, and that is what makes the choice hard: I no longer have a clear criteria to decide if a given solution fits or not.

If I keep the problem close at hand, it’s easy to see if a solution fits it or not. And when I found one that fits, the problem is solved, and the need to choose no longer exists.

In this sentence: “too much choice”, the key part is “too much” and not “choice.”

I define “too much” as “more than I want”, and this is what makes me push it away. It’s not the thing itself, it’s its inadequate quantity. Too much of anything is undesirable.

One other aspect that will make the choice hard it the lack of understanding of the problem: the less I understand the problem, the harder it will be to pick, or even search for a solution.

* * *

I find that it’s easy to come up with dramatic ideas like “paradox of choice” by making generalizations.

On the other hand, when I put things into context, they become clear.