June 18, 2008
The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz
The American gospel of individualism and the free market seems to preach that the more choices we have the better. But Barry Schwartz argues that as our options increase, the worse we tend to be at making choices. And the less we enjoy the choices we make. He starts by discussing this in shopping- all the different types of bread, or jeans we can buy. Then he goes on to show all the phone & communication options, entertainment, choices over how we pursue relationships, careers, religion. He supports his claims with many psychological studies.
Schwartz explains that people respond to this smörgåsbord of choices by being “choosers” who think about the importance of the decision and “pickers” who passively pick from whatever is available. Maximizers try to get the best, but while looking everywhere for it and finally making a decision, they wonder if it was really the best. Satisficers settle for what is good enough. Maybe sometimes they don’t get something as good as the maximizers, but they don’t stress out about it as much, and they don’t spend all that time needed to find the “perfect sweater”.
I have often felt overwhelmed by decision-making, and while others chided me for being indecisive, I thought there was something wrong with me. So reading this book was very reassuring, that yes, there is something psychologically overwhelming about all the choices we have. At the end of the book he gives a list of practical suggestions on how to make choices easier to deal with. One is to be more grateful for what you have, so that you will be more satisfied. Don’t compare yourself to others- figure out what is meaningful to you, and what makes you happy. This is something I really needed to hear- lately I’ve been very hard on myself for not being “good enough” compared to how I saw others around me. Accept some constraints on your choices. I would recommend this book to anyone in a modern industrial society, but especially people struggling with stress and depression. Folks with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), ADD, and autism often have trouble making choices and so I’d suggest it to them too.
June 14, 2008
Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg (Book 1 of the Majipoor Cycle)
This book was literally shoved into my hands by my fiance with an exhortation of “You have to read this!” After reading, I have to say, he did me a favor! It takes place on Majipoor, a large planet that was long ago colonized by Earth and races of other planets. Much of the technology has been lost, and Majipoor is at a feudal, agricultural level of development and something of a galactic backwater. But overall, it is a peaceful and prosperous world.
Here we find Valentine, a young man who has forgotten his past. He joins a troupe of traveling jugglers, and immerses himself in the art and the carefree life of an entertainer. But Valentine is not who he seems, and when he discovers his true identity, he faces a great challenge, and a journey across much of Majipoor.
Silverberg has created a fascinating world, filled with many colorful characters of various species. The significance of dreams, and their interpretation, figures prominently in Majipooran culture- even in the social order. The Lady of Sleep guides the people with prophetic dreams, while the King of Dreams punishes wrongdoers with nightmares. It was an exciting and suspenseful adventure. I look forward to the next book in the series, Lord Valentine Pontifex and the continuing political intrigue it will reveal.