Tired of Choosing

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Another election, and with some exceptions, another low voter turnout.

But perhaps the problem is not that we vote too little, but that we are voting too often.  Voting is, after all, a particular form of choosing, and you can reverse that to state that all choices are a form of voting.

And when you think about it in those terms it becomes clear that our lives these days demand that we do a lot of voting.

All our consumption choices — clothing, entertainment and food — are available to us as a range of options drawn from a pan-global spectrum of alternatives. Or consider, for example, the purchase of a phone. It used to be to that you contacted something called The Phone Company and they literally hooked you up. That was it. Now acquiring a phone -- between choosing make, model, features and data plan -- is, according to some  experts, the most complex financial decision a consumer can make. 

Back in the days when voter turnout was higher there were people like pension fund managers or travel agents who made informed decisions on our behalf. Now we live in the age of the empowered consumer, which is another way of saying that we’re on our own. 


Even our diversions make this sort of demand on us. Social media platforms function as arenas for collecting endorsements and the fantasy sports enthusiast roots for a team comprised of players she selected.

I suspect that exercising one’s democratic franchise seemed a good bit more compelling when all shopping took place at the general store and home entertainment meant reading the Bible. In a world where choices are everywhere, we eventually start avoiding them. There are numerous psychological studies showing that people who are asked to complete some task or computation before selecting something to eat are more apt to select the indulgent over the virtuous: they take the cookie instead of the apple. We don’t have a limitless capacity for this sort of thing. At some point we want a break. So is it any surprise that so many of us choose not to choose when Election Day rolls around?

With a Perspective, I’m Paul Staley.

Paul Staley lives in San Francisco and he has already voted in today’s election.