Or, “Why there is little practical difference”. The terms Apple and Dell may be replaced by HP and Lenova, Asus and iBuyPower, or pretty much any boxed system.
Two helpful references, both TED talks, followed by a brief summary. These will form a basis for understanding the psychology of what this post is focused on.
The Paradox of Choice
In brief, the psychological point I want to explore is that choice is not what is really best for us much of the time, and happiness is an internal state of mind.
Since the lives I am most easily able to relate to are my own and those close to me, I will frequently give examples of myself and my girlfriend, Meg.
The human mind can be very misleading about what will make it happy. People pursue money, power, sex, all things they truly believe (as their brain tells them to believe it) will make them happy…but they often do not become happy pursuing the brain’s lead on happiness. When this is compounded by being given too many choices, our brain’s ability to mislead us only strengthens.
Consider the wide variety of cell phones available, and allow me to be so bold as to break them into three categories. The dumb phone, the phone, and the smart phone. I’d think of a better name for the standard phone, but my creativity fails me.
The dumb phone makes calls and receives them. Fewer phones fall into this category, but basic plans make them dumb. They are for people (luddites we say!) who have little interest in organizing their life, playing music, or doing anything with their phone besides making calls.
The phone is the most common. It has a wider variety of features…some have one feature, and not another, but all are more than a dumb phone. It can make and receives calls, and potentially play music, take/view/send photos, email, and has an ever advancing feature set as technology improves.
The smart phone is barely a phone. Making and taking calls are its simplest function; it can browse the web, access a wide variety of email, run apps, organize life, navigate…it’s a portable computer and life organizer.
Upon a decision to get a cell phone, or upgrade from an existing phone, an at-the-time seemingly important choice must be made. Which phone to get? People WANT the BEST. But which is the best? Even after spending time deciding which class of phone they want, they have dozens of choices of individual phones within a class. They want what is BEST…but who defines best? What’s best for you may not be best for me.
My girlfriend is concerned with the functionality and appearance of the device in question. It should hold visual and tactile appeal, and whatever functions it claims to have must function flawless, every time, with no failure or room for conclusion. She is unconcerned with customization, and doesn’t have much desire for features. Though she ended up with a smart phone because her boyfriend is a total geek, she would be well served by a standard, sleekly designed phone.
Her handsome boyfriend is unconcerned with the appearance, and is primarily concerned with functionality. I don’t mind if there are some bugs…I will work around them, learn to work with quirks, tinker with the device myself until all things run as *I* want them to. This may not be the BEST way for the average person to do things, but it’s customized for me, by me, and I define it as best for me. This makes an open-source based smart phone the best choice for me.
Already, we can see what is best is two different things for different people. However, upon examination of my girlfriend’s requirements…all these decisions and choices that are made should lead her to a phone that functions as intended, with very little choice. If she was not given a choice and simply handed a functioning phone, she would be happier, as she would not even have been bothered with having to make a choice, and not have to second guess if she made “the right choice” (which, I suggest, as many before me, is a fallacy). My situation is different; I am aware of my technical needs and desires, and make careful choices based off of that. I am pleased with having choice, because I am informed enough to make that choice. The downfall in this is if I am informed enough to make a choice that is best for me, but the choice I would make does not exist…if such a phone has not yet been developed.
If there was choice in fashion, the situation would be reversed. Meg would understand the options and choices given to her, and select something fashionable. I, meanwhile, am unable to shop alone. I would go to a clothing store, wander the aisle, and come out with nothing. My mother, even after college, would go with me, select a some clothing in an appropriate size, and suddenly, as if by magic to my eyes, the store suddenly had clothes I could wear. I found the variety of choices in clothing oppressive and overwhelming, and it led me to make no choice, except to choose to leave and reject making a choice.
This can be seen in grocery stores, selecting sauce (as discussed in another TED talk). We have a wide variety of paper to choose in our printer. We have customized pens, tissues, TVs, shoes…everything now has massive choice and decision making in selecting the RIGHT product, and it can be overwhelming.
Most people are experts in few, if any fields, and therefore are unprepared for the task of making a choice. We are marketed at very aggressively, through every medium advertiser can think of, and probably through some we haven’t even realized yet. The choices are portrayed as important, and we want to be assured of having the best. Yet, if every product claims to be the best, how do we know? The average person is at the whim of marketing.
It’s been awhile. We were talking about Apple and Dell, right? Discussing why it doesn’t matter.
Let’s be straight up. I like choice. As an engineer, my decision making process is highly refined, ignores most marketing, and is well above average in making “best” choices for myself. My choice, generally, is a Linux-based PC, build by myself, running a lightweight system that does what I want, and that’s it. When I decide I want further capabilities, such as photo editing, I choose to install and run this on my system; I don’t need it to be a built in capability. This is a result of my geekiness and training.
The average person knows little to nothing about how a computer works. What works best for them is what they KNOW best and are most efficient on; transferring from PC to Mac or Mac to PC can be daunting, and most people consider the time learning as a waste.
Let’s take it a step further. Windows-based computers are looked at as more flexible, giving more options, and giving more choice. Non-Apple-fanbois scoff at Apple products at locked-in, locked-down, choiceless monsters.
What has Apple done? They’ve given users a lack of choice. This is exactly what most people want. They don’t have the tech savvy to MAKE choices; so when presented with an elegant, highly functional product, they embrace it. Any snobbery is a result of Apple’s marketing, not their product.
However, the average user doesn’t even KNOW about this locked-down Apple philsophy. If they use it, they enjoy it. Even catching wind of this and attempting to mock Apple is useless; many of those users by a Dell, HP, other boxed computer, and spend their time using the packaged browser, mail program, photo editor, media player…in effect, taking the exact same practical approach as an Apple user, and taking comfort in their own lack of choice.
Therefore, lack of choice, and even seeming lack of choice (indeed, there are a great variety of replacement programs, for Apple and Windows, for almost every application, that most users simply don’t know about) is often a positive thing. In an area where most people are not knowledgeable, lack of choice is good. People choose to like what they are comfortable with, and any debate beyond that is merely us exercising our ego.
Consider a device you can buy in 11 different efficiencies. The first one is 100% efficient, and costs $100. The next is 110% efficient, and costs $110, and so on until 200% efficiency at $200. How do you choose what is best, as an average consumer, who is not knowledgeable about the product? This is the situation most marketers have us in, and glibly persuade us to buy the best, newest hotness. If you are knowledgeable, and know you need exactly 140% efficiency, the choice is easy, and you are grateful for it…but for the vast, overwhelming majority, it becomes stressful and allows us to second-guess our choices, rather than make us happy with having a choice. We often will buy the biggest and best, because we are assured we will be happy with that…but, in the end, it was a meaningless choice that we made in order to stroke our ego, in the same we debate our choices are better because of our ego.
So, what therefore do we do? We must make intelligent choices, when faced with overwhelming choice. I would say, in these situations, the only negative choices are not making a choice, as I tend to do when attempting to buy clothes, or to hesitate, waffle, and allow negative stress into our lives. Apple or Dell…just pick one. Make a choice decisively, and be pleased with the results. Certain situations call for different approaches, but generally, don’t let choice frazzle you…simply make the choice.