Thirteen Channels

remote.jpg My current cable television service gives me over 200 channels. There was a time when all televisions only got thirteen channels. This was before UHF; before cable; before satellite. There was a rotary dial that clicked twelve times to the right and back twelve times to the left. Rarely did anyone actually get stations on all thirteen channels; a few were empty in large metropolitan areas and most were empty in rural parts of the nation. You got the big three networks and a few local stations that showed second tier syndicated shows, reruns, and old movies.

This came to me yesterday as I was reading an article in this week’s New Yorker magazine entitled “Select All - Can you have too many choices?” by Christopher Caldwell. The gist of the article is that humans, when faced with a plethora of options, are lousy choosers. In addition, all those choices can produce anxiety and regret, even when we’ve made the “right” choice. Psychologists have done many studies that show that the more options we are given, the less likely we are to make any decision at all and that those decisions that are made aren't always based on rational thought processes.

We try to cope in two ways. Some of us wade through the morass of choices (for a life partner, a DVD player, the best olive oil, a new car, etc.) searching for the absolute best; putting aside those options that are good, but not perfect. These folks tend to either never make any final choice at all, or to choose and then have remorse, and then choose again. The second group consciously limits their options or the standards by which they choose. This group contents itself with limiting the range of choices and being happy with choices that are “good enough” - that make them feel the choice resulted in a better than average result.

I checked my cable remote this morning and counted the number of channels I had programmed into the favorites button. There were thirteen.


Keep in mind that there were thirteen numbers on the changer, but never actually thirteen channels available to view - I remember it being six, and that was plenty, too!

Yeah, well, ours goes to 11.

yup, many people actually get by without 2 different MTV channels and six different home shopping choices...

Here you go, a topic I know something about. As long as we are walking down memory lane, I remember when we got our first "cable" channel, Wometco Home Theater, and you had to get up and switch on a box behind the tv, to get the one channel that was offered. To boot, they only showed movies at night, at other times, guess what they showed, yes you guessed it Home Shopping Network. How happy could skutchie be.

To be honest I get the entire thing with the choices. I need to buy a DVD and it is overwhelming. It took me 3 months to buy an MP3 player to run with (which I got 2 days ago). I am usually a decisive person, but for some reason, I just can't get it together for some of these purchases. I will work on it.

Read the article if you have time. The whole decision paralysis/remorse problem is very interesting. I think that, whether it's 300 channels or 75 DVD player models to choose from, the "freedom" of so many choices actually limits us.

Or as DEVO put it:

In ancient rome
There was a poem
About a dog
Who found two bones
He picked at one
He licked the other
He went in circles
He dropped dead

Freedom of choice
Is what you got
Freedom from choice
Is what you want

(from Freedom of Choice, 1980)

Hey Gregg!
Go Devo.
We got no cable
We got no DSL
We got so many choices
We're indecisive, hell!!
Many mornings it's a tough call getting out of bed.
I can't decide what else to say.

I KNEW David was going to have to weigh in on this one.


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This page contains a single entry by published on February 27, 2004 10:18 AM.

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