Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Dilemma of Choice

What if you could reduce an object to the status of being just an object?

Too often, we think of possessions as more than what they are. How many people are addicted to their phones or think that they would be helpless without them? The phone can take on the role of lifeline, connection, informant, or devoted record keeper. The phone becomes more than just a phone.

When you pick a mobile phone, there are many hidden options that pop up: What is your wallpaper going to be? How much time will you spend looking for just the right photo, and then cropping it? How long will it last as your wallpaper before you look for another one? On that note, what about the phone itself? How often do you think about upgrading and switching to another phone? How much would the new phone cost? How much would the plan be? What accessories would you need to buy? What will your ringtone be? Where will you buy it from? Will it be what you want? Will you ever be satisfied?

Taking all these options into account, I realized that I was spending about as much time thinking about the maintenance of my phone as actually using it. I also became aware of the thin line I was walking by constantly handling my smartphone while driving (such as changing my music preference every 2.5 minutes). It seemed fulfilling my right to choice was the way I wasted time.

I switched to a "clam shell" dumb phone a year and a half ago. I appreciate the limited connection I have with it. I notice that I see it just as a phone now. I picked one wallpaper, and it has stayed there the whole time. I don't have phone envy. This phone is just right for me.

I have done the same with earrings. When I noticed I was becoming a woman on my mission in Argentina, I got my ears hand-pierced by a woman with an ice block and specially-pointed first-timer earrings. I thought,  "This opens up a whole new world! Now I can wear all those earrings I've been wanting to wear!" I would always look at the shiny stuff in stores (and I still do), comparing earrings, buying many, trying them out, getting rid of them for perceived obsolescence, and trying to find my favorites. But maybe I created a market for options when I didn't have to. In Peru, because of a lack of ideal sanitation conditions, my ears would hurt when I would wear the earrings I brought with me. To eliminate the issue, I bought gold studs, and I have switched them out only a handful of times since then. They are an adequate choice to wear every day, and even though I originally though choice was better, I have since all but eradicated it to give my brain a rest.

I would like to extend this limitation of choice to other areas in my life. Take clothing for example. My clothing choices reflect my concern to be what others want me to be. I have said various times that if I could wear anything I want, it would be full floor-length skirts and Victorian tops. But I feel my clothing plays a role in my relationship with society. It helps me be seen as not an outcast, as a regular upstanding citizen. I feel like I have to conform, to a certain extent, to what the general public desires of me in order to be "successful." And if I don't feel it from society at large (or rather, from advertising agencies), my clothes-savvy sister will interject with mild comments that I need to update my wardrobe.

When I was in Peru, I only had four tops and three bottoms with one dress. I didn't have to worry about what I was going to wear that day because, one, there weren't many options, and two, I had already trusted those articles of clothing to make me look decent.

When I do end up being critical of how flattering a dress or shirt makes me look, I am almost always disappointed, and label it a reject item. I know I will soon be at the stores again, searching for the perfect item, which always seems to elude my grasp. Recently, however, I have been choosing those decent clothes again, the clothing that is acceptable, but not radical. The clothing that I don't have to spend extra time thinking about. Shouldn't the critical thinking only be confined to the time before making the purchase? Obviously, there are people who see clothing as an expression of opinion, almost an art form for creating. I am not one of those people. I would rather remove the option.

And that's not such a bad idea. After being in other countries, I am astounded at how much choice we have here in America. Just go to any regular store (which is usually a large store), and you'll see an endless assortment of toothpaste options. How is anyone supposed to make a choice with so many available? Many times, we don't choose. It becomes too overwhelming. If there happened to be a smaller number of options, we could spend a proper amount of time researching and comparing the available products to see which one best suited our needs, but that's nearly impossible now. An abundance of choice sometimes makes things harder than they have to be.

And so here is the goal I have set for myself: when I can see a phone as just a means of communication, earrings as just a small embellishment, or clothing just as a means to cover the body from the elements, things become a whole lot simple and clearer. Options just for options sake are not helpful or beneficial. When I reduce something to its basic function, I can see it for what it really is: a tool.