Who Let the Blogs Out?
Author Barry Schwartz begins his book The Paradox of Choice with an anecdote about shopping for a pair of new jeans. His pants are falling apart, and things have gotten critical. He wanders into the Gap for an exercise he suspects will take five minutes, and tells a salesperson the size he's looking for. He's then swept off his feet with a tidal wave of unexpected information.
"Do you want them slim fit, easy fit, relaxed fit, baggy or extra baggy?" she asks. "Do you want them stonewashed, acid-washed or distressed? Do you want them button-fly or zipper-fly? Do you want them faded or regular?"
The story helps to illustrate the crux of Choice, namely the book's subhead: "Why More Is Less: How the Culture of Abundance Robs Us of Pleasure."
Schwartz's dead-on thesis: "When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable. As the number of available choices increases, as it has in our consumer culture, the autonomy, control and liberation this variety brings are powerful and positive. But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded."
Nowhere are the principles of Schwartz's book more apparent than in music right now--specifically in the way information about music is consumed. The choices used to be easy. You read Rolling Stone or Spin, Mojo or NME, and you were done. Information about the bands you loved was parsed out in bits, and those bits came out once or twice a month.
Now those bits never stop coming. We're dizzy in a data fog about new artists, release dates, who's hot, who's not, remixes, downloads, mash-ups, mixtapes, mixwits ... ah STFU already.
Had you asked any tech-inclined soothsayer to read his digital tea leaves, say, five years ago, he probably would've told you the glut of information available to consumers would be a good thing, that more options means more choice and more choice is always good. What he wouldn't have understood (and what, in fact, we're still learning) is that just because some choice is good doesn't mean more choice is better.
The excess of choice in music information has, ironically, caused an information debt. We stop seeking options out and end up back where we were--on the websites of Rolling Stone or Spin, Mojo or NME--content to stick with the names of brands we trust.
PW's Summer Guide 2014