I like cereal. I think most people do. In my house we usually have around seven or eight boxes going at any given time—a few twig-like whole-grain brands for me, some corn-syrup-laden-cartoon-character business for my husband, and a couple of vaguely healthy kid-friendly cereals for my son. Theoretically, we could all eat the same kind of cereal (Honey-Nut Cheerios the most likely intersection of our collective sweet spots) but with so many options on the market, why bother to compromise?
The other day in the grocery store I counted 164 kinds of cereal. And I’m not including hot cereals. 164! Now, I’m all for having choices, and I know that I’m privileged to live in a country where I have the freedom to choose exactly which cereal best fits my individual needs, but there’s a fine line between abundance and, say, piggish overindulgence.
I think living in a culture that offers too many options is the hardest on our kids. The average middle-class American child is bombarded with choices at every turn—whether they’re forced to choose between a selection of intellectually stimulating afterschool activities or flavor combinations of Extreme™ wild berry juice. And we grown-ups play into this, working hard to make sure that each option flashier and cooler than the last. No wonder today’s kids just want to zone out in front of their video games, or that so many of them have ADD. For a child overwhelmed by abundance, the experience probably feels similar to being plunked in the middle of Times Square. With so many flashing neon lights vying for our attention, how do we choose where to look?
I think the real problem is, in a culture of infinite choices, kids don’t really need to make a choice at all, because if the thing they’ve chosen for themselves doesn’t end up working out, there’s always another option, just around the corner. Download a new song, then decide you don’t like it? Big whoop. Move on to the next band. Want a pair of sparkly, pink and green high top sneakers? Just Google them. Chances are, they probably exist. We have so many options in today’s consumerist culture that the moment of reflection when making a purchase is no longer necessary. Why think when we can just have. But who ever makes a good choice for themselves when they’re dining out at the all-you-can-eat buffet?
And I can’t help but wonder if this kind of carelessness has an impact on other stuff in our lives, like the mortgage crisis, or divorce rates, if Americans have just become so accustomed to making disposable choices, we’ve lost our ability to stop and reflect about what it is that we truly want.
Don’t get me wrong; I like having options as much as the next guy. But, I’d be hard pressed to find a reason why any store needs to offer 36 (yes, this is a real number) different kinds of toilet paper. Though, in all fairness to my fellow Americans, there are about 36 different types of ass-holes.