Choice giveth. Choice taketh away

We live in a world that pretends as if more choice is always better. While we are aware of what choice offers, we are often unaware of what it costs us.

A feature rich app offers its users much choice – control over configuration, user experience and an endless list of use-cases. A feature rich app is also difficult to use, bug-prone and open to security attacks. Past a point, increasing a user’s choice reduces their chance of having an app that is that is easy to use, bug-free and secure.

The rise of Amazon, the ‘everything’ store, is an enabler of tremendous choice. Thanks to its unlimited online shelf-space, ruthless efficiency and customer obsession, Amazon offers unbridled choice at the lowest price in the short term. In the medium term, Amazon leads to smaller businesses shutting shop and monopolizes certain segments of the market. In the long term, everybody is forced to buy certain goods from Amazon. In the long term, Amazon robs us of the choice to buy from somebody who isn’t Amazon.

Standards and adversarial interoperability are the bedrock of every engineering discipline. They have helped us to craft a world with much variety and choice. The same 5 millimeter screw can be used in a bathroom cabinet, a hard-disk drive or within a harmonica. Yet, standards, at their core, are about relinquishing choice to enable homogeneity. Without the uniformity they offer, much of this world’s variety would disappear.

Choice is always a trade-off – to increase choice somewhere is to take it away elsewhere. And vice-versa.

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