25 May 2015

Too much information

OCD is a condition characterised by the need for certainty, so reaching decisions can be particularly hard for sufferers, who have to be sure of making the best possible choice in any given situation. 

You'd think, then, that the wealth of information available these days would make matters easier; in fact, all it's done is complicate things.

Take holidays, for example. In the past, information about a destination, or specific accommodation, was only available in a brochure, and was likely to consist of a few lines of spin text and a solitary photo, which had been taken from an angle designed to hide the unsavoury surroundings.

There was no TripAdvisor, where fellow travellers could spill the beans about the noise from the dual carriageway next to that apparently beautiful hotel. There were no Google Maps, with aerial and street views to allow you to see for yourself the sewage works behind that seemingly perfect villa. It was pot luck whether your trip turned out to be the holiday of a lifetime or an unmitigated disaster.

Likewise with any significant purchase for your home. In the absence of online reviews, the best you could do was try to track down the relevant issue of the consumer magazine Which? in your local library. Nowadays, you can find a review of anything in seconds - and I mean anything. Think of a product, any product - let's say, pencils...and sure enough, here are 141 reviews* of a 12-pack of pencils, which numerous potential buyers have judged 'helpful'.

Increasingly, we rely on others' opinions to shape our decisions, which only makes the process harder. If we feel the need to solicit advice before spending 99p on a dozen pencils, then how much consideration do we have to give to the purchase of a television or a washing machine?

Image courtesy of John Kasawa/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
When my kettle sprang a leak earlier this month, I immediately went online to research a replacement. My criteria were simple - it had to be cheap, white and easy to source - and I immediately homed in on one that fitted the bill. The 997 reviews (yes, 997 opinions to 'help' me) gave it a solid overall rating of 4.6 stars out of 5. Decision made, then? No, because, of course, I had to check the 21 1-star reviews, just to be sure it wasn't a dud.

That opened a proverbial can of worms. One reviewer claimed that the lid kept opening when the kettle was boiling. Another said that steam poured from the on-off switch. A third insisted that hot drinks tasted of plastic, even after numerous boils. And on and on it went: a catalogue of woes that some of the 2-star reviews echoed. Oh, yes, I checked those, too. 

Eventually I decided life was too short to waste any more of it dithering over whether to splash out  £11.99 on a particular kettle, so I went ahead and bought it.

And no, the lid doesn't open of its own accord and my drinks don't taste of plastic, but, yes, there is a little puff of steam from that switch...which I've decided just to ignore. I'll put up with anything rather than resume the torturous hunt for the perfect alternative.

* * *

*An increase of 2 reviews since I drafted this post just a week ago, and be warned, the price has also gone up...if you need pencils, you'd better get in fast.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Helen! I have to add that while decision making can be especially difficult for those with OCD, it's hard these days for those of us without the disorder as well. There are, as you say, just TOO MANY CHOICES!!! I've written about this also: https://ocdtalk.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/ocd-and-decision-making/

Thanks for your post!

Helen Barbour said...

ocdtalk, thanks for your feedback and for sharing your own blog post on this. It's easy to see why people move towards minimalism, or even spartanism (which I've also written about), as a reaction to modern-day consumerism and the (mostly first-world) challenge of having too much choice.