Monday, June 28, 2010


The Art Of Choosing
Sheena Iyengar
Hachette India
Rating: ***1/2

An increasing number of people now assemble their life stories from narratives so disparate that the mind reels from trying to contain all that contradiction. Everything is overlapping with everything else.
It is in a world like this, we make choices every day. Husband, career, Pepsi , Nike etc. Part anecdotal, part research based, Columbia University Professor Sheena Iyengar writes in an engaging non-academic style.
If you are expecting self-help style bullet points on choosing well, stay away .You might, after reading, be stranded -abandoned by conditioned belief systems and forced to rethink why and how you choose. Iyengar questions choice using every possible framework through which we question- scientific, political, personal, economic, medical, religious, institutional, individual, and even astrological.
Iyengar demonstrates how the presence or lack of choice can have a profound impact on our health and sense of well being. How you choose to respond to looking at a diagram of an aquarium for five seconds may be determined by whether you are from a collectivist culture or an individualist one for instance.
She examines popular myths and stories from different cultures analysing them to determine how they demonstrate choice patterns, careful not to generalise but instead give nuanced detailed explanations. We get snapshots into brilliant psychology research such as the experiment where two groups of men, one on a hanging bridge, and the other on a regular one were introduced to attractive women who gave them their phone numbers. The study ultimately reveals that falling off a bridge is biologically similar to falling in love.
Most interestingly, she analyses fashion and why you didn’t actually choose what you are wearing but that a bunch of people sipping cappuccino in New York made that choice for you.
Why did coke buy over Christmas? Is there variety or did the market create that illusion? Is too much choice a bad thing?
We cannot opt out of choice but the best way is to continue studying our complex relationship with it. Science can assist us in becoming more skilful choosers but at its core, choice remains an art.
If you have the choice, read this.

Published in First City Magazine , July 2010 .

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