by George F. Snell III
October 10th, 2014

Let me set the stage:

  • Amazon Instant Video has more than 40,000 movies and TV shows
  • Kindle offers more than one million book titles
  • Google Play has 1.5 million apps
  • There are 157 “white” colors available from Benjamin Moore (and if you can tell the difference between Sandy Beaches and Sandy Shore then you are a better man than me)

You get the picture. There are too many choices in the digital world. It probably why you have a hard time picking the right movie or the right book. It may be why there’s no way you’re going to paint your bedroom when “blue” has turned into a decision among 510 different kinds of blue.

Too many articles. Too many blog posts. Way too many tweets. And what does too many choices lead to?

Confusion, paralyzation and, ultimately, unhappiness.

I recently got to experience this first hand while looking for a coffee maker on Amazon. Search for “Coffee Maker” on Amazon and you get – in less than a second – 24,136 results. You can narrow this down, of course. There are 2,927 different types of coffee machines, but thankfully only 472 espresso and coffee maker combos.

How to decide?

Reviews, of course. But even sorting through the only 4-star and above reviews for coffee machines, I still had 394 products. And that was in aggregate. Even the best reviewed coffee machines got slammed by a few people. How did I deal with all of this?


I threw up my hands and decided to read Gawker instead.

As Fast Company noted recently:

“As the number of options increases, the costs, in time and effort, of gathering the information needed to make a good choice also increase… The level of certainty people have about their choice decreases. And the anticipation that they will regret their choice increases.”


Even reading the reviews on the good coffee machines, I would come across negative comments about it. That stopped me. Got me nervous about committing.

It was easier to push the decision off.

But even worse is the fact that when we’re tired, annoyed and confused – we tend to make bad decisions. This is called “Decision Fatigue.”

Again from the Fast Company article:

“The mind can only sort through so many options and make so many choices before it starts to run out of steam. That’s why impulse buys like candy bars and magazines at the checkout aisle in the grocery store can be hard to resist. We’ve exhausted all our good decision-making skills.”

Forbes put it even better: “Complexity leads to indecision, leads to stagnation.”

Can’t we go back to black or white? Paper or plastic?

I’m interested in hearing from you. Do you get paralyzed by the number of choices for, well, everything? Does having too many choices make you unhappy?

George F. Snell III is senior vice-president, digital & social communications, at Weber Shandwick Boston. 

This article first appeared on Snell’s blog High Talk

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