Overchoice & Experiences — Danish Prakash

Overchoice & Experiences

We live in an age where we have a lot more choices for virtually every single thing. Think of mobile phones, to-do apps, cutlery, pens, movies, books or universities, water bottles, etc. We’re living in truly enlightenened times, but does having more options is always a good thing? On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself struggling to choose from an endless array of things to choose from. Overchoice or Choice Overload is the name given to the phenomena where having more choices results in the decision making process to become paralyzed. This essay discusses how choice overload has made certain activities in our daily life drastically different from how they used to be, some for the better, others not so much.

Before we start, let’s make it clear that I’m not trying to say that having options to choose from is a bad thing. Far from it, it enables people from different backgrounds or cultures to live a comfortable life. For instance, if we only had high-end SUVs for people to travel in, the world would be a very different and inconvenient place for a lot of us who can’t afford an SUV but thankfully that’s not the case. People have the option to choose, they can use the public transport(!), ride a bike or get a hatchback based entirely on their requirements and concerns.

I’m also not implying that the previous era when we didn’t have the luxury of choice offerred us better times, that’s factually incorrect. The world is definitely a better place and I’m not here trying to romanticize earlier times just because I seem to feel something is not right with our age. But at the same time, I feel like we lost something specifically with respect to certain activities or experiences when we agreed to or rather when we started racing to provide more options for every single thing. Let’s talk about some of these experiences.

Watching Movies

It’s extremely rare for me to watch movies with someone these days, be it family or friends, but I remember back when I was in 4th standard, our family used to watch movies quite often. On many occasions, cousins and neighbours would join in on a Sunday afternoon for a movie and everybody would get together and have a good time. But I feel we’re getting together less often to watch movies and choice might be the reason behind it.

Back in the day, you would not have access to hundreds of movies, there’d be only a handful of movies that you could choose to watch, either in the cinemas or by buying a DVD. Internet was not as widespread as it is now, neither was it fast enough to allow streaming videos, let alone movies. So whenever there was a chance to see a movie, nobody would let it go. Contrast that with today, we have every single title that is out there at the convenience of a couple clicks in our homes or as some would prefer, in their pockets. Not to mention the fact that I’d rather prefer a movie that is more suited to my taste than to watch something I don’t have an interest in. And with that, what you essentially have here is the availability of choices affecting real-life connections.

But on the flipside, it also feels good when there’s that one movie that everyone is eager to watch and therefore, the novelty of watching a film in theatres with your friends and family never wears off. But it’s hard to say that this compensates for everything else we might’ve given up in order for us to have more choices in the kinds of movies we want to watch. The best way out in this case is to perhaps choose a movie, either by voting or my mutual consensus every couple of months. The voting part is still going to be tricky but hopefully there’s a movie every so often that piques everyone’s interest even slightly.

Listening to Music

I vividly remember the latest popular song to come on the radio or on the handful of TV music channels that were available back then and everybody would go gaga over it and sing along. Here was a single source for music and since you didn’t have any control over it, you’d have to wait for your favorite song to come up. Sometimes, it’d come up sooner and other times, it wouldn’t come up at all but there was something fun about the whole process. The choices were extremely limited so most of the times, we’ll be jamming to whatever was on the television or on the radio.

Fast forward to the current day with services such as Spotify, YouTube Music, and Apple Music, and you have so many artists and tracks to listen to. To add to that, there’s very little friction for you to fire up one of these apps and start listening to whatever music you’re in the mood for. For instance, at the gym, rarely do I see people jamming to what’s playing in the background, howsoever terrible it might be, everyone’s plugged in, myself included. But I don’t think we can blame anyone either, because I’d rather listen to that UK drill single lest I mess up my workout which would be undesirable. I was recently discussing Spotify Wrapped with some friends over dinner a couple days back and hardly anyone had any common song or artist in their top 5. I thought it was surprising. But here too, we can talk about both the pros and cons. One one side, you can see people in the subway or the gym or even in the garden, plugged in and walking among themselves potentially losing out on forming new connections or engaging in discussion with their fellow passengers. And yet on the other hand, such platforms prove to be a boon for upcoming artists which further promotes creativity and originality, to a certain extent. They are able to reach a wider audience without having to spend a fortune and hence you nowadays see so many people listening to and supporting Indie artists which is a win-win situation.

Finding a way out for this is much more complex than watching a movie simply because listening to music nowadays is generally considered as an auxiliary or a background activity. You could be in the gym or doing chores or even studying or working while listening to music. And so finding someone to have that exact same taste while they are engaged in some other activity which might require a different kind of background music is not trivial. But similar to movies, there are moments such as going to that live show where your favorite artist is performing, that prove to be that much more fun. As much as I would want to find a way out, I think we can keep things the way they are for music.


Books, I personally feel, are an anomaly in this context. I haven’t yet had an experience where having more choices in books came out as not right. Of course, I’ve had my fair share of instances where I have some trouble deciding which book to read but it’s not strenous and much more importantly, I don’t see it having an effect on anyone else other than me. Reading has historically been a solo activity so there’s not much to lose in the way of forming or enhancing connections while engaging in the activity. Rather, once you’re done with the act of reading, you can then choose to engage in sharing with or receiving recommendations from others and for what it’s worth, having more options would only enhance this whole experience.

When I’m looking for what to read next, I can scrounge the internet for precisely what I’m looking for. This is thanks to the sheer number of titles that are easily available on the internet and are equally accessible. It’s an understatement to state that I really enjoy researching about what I want to read next. But at the same time, whenever I read memoirs set in the pre-tech era, there are always references to people receiving books from friends or families, which turn out to be enjoyable reads. And so this naturally got me thinking whether I’d also enjoy reading whatever I can get my hands on without doing any prior research on the exact topic? I’m not particularly inclined to try this out because I enjoy the status quo unless of course something completely new comes out to change the way we approach reading as an activity. So we seem to have come out unscathed when it comes to reading and advent of choices.

Eating Out/In

So freaking hard to decide on what you want to eat and once you manage to accomplish that task, you’re caught up in a never ending mire of where to eat. This is more pronounced when you’re ordering in because there the options open up more. When choosing for a place to eat out, there are usually tangible restrictions around such as the distance or whether the place has availability, do you have to take reservations, etc. You also need to think about the weather, the transportation and after clearing all these hurdles, you reach your destination to enjoy your meal, or rather, to think about what to order only to get caught up in the same dilemma again. Whereas while ordering in, all you need to do is to choose, and if you’ve been following me, that’s the crux of this whole essay. You have a a myriad of options and there are no physical, logistical or meteorological restrictions attached, you can order anything you want as long as it’s there on the screen. Anyone who has tried this can tell you how frustrating this is. It’s in fact so prevalent, that one of the major food delivery services in India has built a feature to help people overcome the cognitive impairment that comes with choice overload.

Back to the good old times, I fondly remember a handful of places we’d frequent whenever it was time for a celebration. Ordering-in was going to be a relic of the future, thank heavens. But I don’t really remember the elders looking famished trying to figure out where to go. For starters, we used to head out quite seldom and when we did, everybody would already have the same place in mind and discussions about where to go were extremely rare. There’s a good reason all this could be attributed to my background and that’s okay. The point isn’t to carve out a pattern but rather share an opinion or theory. And the theory is that choosing where and what to eat has become a cumbersome exercise, thanks to innumerable choices.


This is a fun one. It was so much easier and fun to gift someone something. Limited choices made it easier to choose something and the likelihood of the receiver enjoying it was also significantly greater. Nowadays, it’s just impossible to gift someone something they’d like unless or until they had given you a list beforehand. Let’s just say you chose a perfume for someone, now given the variety in perfumes, it’s extremely unlikely that what you chose is what the receiver wanted. This completely rules out the fact that the person wanted a perfume in the first place, but having more choices or not doesn’t necessarily solves this so we’ll not get into that.

I thought one day about how I would like to receive a gift while I was wondering what to gift someone. I realized how with all the shopping options available online these days, I’d much rather prefer a gift card so that I can buy something I’ll use (I like to consider myself a minimalist utilitarian) rather than receiving a perfume for the umpteenth time. But..I still have to ask someone which gift card they’d like to have because there are just so many of them, which online store, which gaming console or which food delivery app, etc. This is still one hop more than I’d have preferred but at least the reciever is going to get something useful out of it at the end of the day. But thankfully, people are receptive to the idea of getting a gift card and so I feel this is the best way out so far.


This topic has been bothering me for a while and I have a lot more examples of activities or experiences that are seemingly affected by having to choose from a number of options. But the point of this essay isn’t really to keep blabbering but to put my thoughts out there giving the chance to the reader to think about the topic too. The topic of choice overload has generally been of interest for people but I rarely see it being discussed with respect to things that we come across daily and how they compare with the times when we weren’t required to choose from so many options.

This essay, on a broader level, discussed only the situations and not the solutions, even though there are a few suggestions. This is deliberately left as a thinking exercise for the reader because every single topic discussed in this essay includes high level of subjectivity and therefore proposing a solution wouldn’t have made any sense. So think about it and reach out if you feel there’s more to it than I have tried to cover and I’ll be happy to discuss further.