What Paradox is That?

by F.

Heterogeneity, choice, freedom—these are good things, generally. But not to reactionaries like Barry Schwartz, who moans about too many varieties of peanut butter at the supermarket. The poor guy—he’s overwhelmed by the many kinds of jeans at The Gap, too.

Yeah. That’s horrible, Barry. It’s really bad that people can now get jeans that fit their body style. What a tragedy. Barry, here—let me hand you a Kleenex Soft 3-Ply so you can wipe away those tears. Or maybe that should be a Kleenex Thick-n-Soft. Or… Oh screw it—here’s a list of all nine types. You pick.

More interesting, though, is how the myriad choices consumers face has created, not confusion and stasis, but more creativity. Take Flavorpill and le cool for instance:

Deciding what to do in any big city can be difficult, making it tempting to stay in and catch up on e-mail instead. But that might in fact be the answer. Two companies—Flavorpill in America and le cool in Europe, acting separately—publish free, weekly e-mails that narrow the torrent down to the two dozen very best events.

There are plenty of places to look for reviews and recommendations, but they can be unreliable or prone to manipulation. And they do little to address the problem of volume: Time Out New York, a listings magazine, listed nearly 500 options for Monday alone. That is why Flavorpill and le cool have opted to provide “filtered cultural stimuli”, as Sascha Lewis, one of Flavorpill’s founders, puts it. A stable of unpaid contributors selects events and writes recommendations. Part-time staff editors then assemble the listings. “It’s about understanding quality within genres, not about specific genres,” says Lisa Hix, the editor of Flavorpill San Francisco. The result is an eclectic, catholic style that, its editors believe, does its best to distil excellence from cultural chaos.

It’s called cultural filtering. Schwartz has a point, though, when it comes to cultural conservatives (whether leftist or rightist). There are far too many to choose from. Some thinning is in order. Schwartz should help us out by silencing himself so our choices aren’t so perplexing.