The Poverty of Choice

As a school kid, I grew up in a house filled with my parents’ books. At the same time, I had practically no money of my own. This meant that while I had a large selection of books to choose from, I had very little control in adding anything new to the collection. In my early teens, I remember going through an omnivorous diet of books on history, cosmology, biology, chemistry, classics, a variety of fiction and even a little geology. The only criteria was that the author should be able to hold my attention. Each book was considered precious and was pored over carefully, read and re-read.

Today, when I go to buy books I frequently buy half a dozen at a go. A few are devoured immediately and some sit on the shelf for months or even years till I get around to them. A far greater danger is that since I can buy what I like, I naturally prefer authors and subjects I already know I want to know more about.

The same story goes for the news, music, film and so on and so forth in every avenue of life. Add it all up and you form a comfort zone of thought. As with any comfort zone, when the going gets easy, the growth stops. With alarming frequency, I find my thoughts falling in the same grooves. A set world view where new knowledge comes, falls into its slot and embellishes the odd nook but is unlikely to fundamentally alter the underlying structure.

Ultimately I sit wondering why with a cornucopia of choice spanning the world does everything taste the same?


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