too much orange juice

One of my students came back to visit me after more than a year working with African refugees. During the time that he was away, he said that one of the things that he dreamed when he got back to US was drinking a tall glass of cold orange juice. When he got back his home in western New York, he headed down the the local Wegmans grocery store make his dream come true–only to find that he had to chose from more than 60 kinds–pulp, no pulp; with calcium or without; from concentrate or not from concentrate. After a year living with virtually no choice of what he would eat or drink or wear, he was so overwhelmed by the possibilities that he left without making a decision.

Most Americans assume that choice is a good thing–and that more more choice is better. Psychologist Barry Schwartz challenges central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz’s estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied. For a great introduction to Schwartz’s thinking on this topic, check out his Ted Talk.

We see the problems with too much choice all the time as we help users integrate technology into their teaching and research. Few users even scratch the surface in using the software they purchase. Experts find that most Word users utilize fewer than 5% of the features–even those for whom word processing is the central productivity tool for their work. One of the most difficult–but most important–tasks for those of us in the Technology Integration Program is to find the balance between unfettered choice and a unwarranted centralization that chokes off creativity. We need to take the leadership in exploring new technologies, recommending those that have the widest potential to improve learning and then developing support mechanisms that help faculty adopt new tools quickly and efficiently.

I’ll be writing more about these focused research projects as the summer goes on, but I owe Susan three posts in the next three days, so I’m going to bring this one to a close.