Choice, choice and more choice. Options, options and more options. Life is so complicated nowadays it is a wonder that we are not all completely paralysed with fear of making the wrong choices in even the most simplest areas of our life – what to have for breakfast, what TV channel to watch or what fruit to eat as a snack. Back in the seventies life was (relatively) simple: take the three things I have just mentioned – breakfast was cereal and/or toast (or croissant on high days and holidays); there were only three TV channels (until the major excitement of Channel 4) and there were only three fruits – apple, orange, banana (and occasionally the very exotic pear) – end of. Nowadays we have to choose between a million types of potential breakfast items (my daughter almost persuaded me this morning that a sugar-covered donut would be OK on the grounds that it is bread-like and had jam inside); there are so many TV channels that flicking through them all takes the same time as watching the omnibus edition of EastEnders and as for fruit…my children think it is perfectly normal to have mango, kiwi, pomegranate, pineapple and pawpaw and the only person who still eats good old apples and bananas in my household is me.
Although people my age may find the choice available nowadays quite bamboozling, it is perfectly ordinary for our children. If I were to present my children, for example, with the choice between an apple and a banana, they would almost certainly say “is that it?” They expect choice, they demand choice. This was very starkly demonstrated to me a while ago when I took a large group of boys aged 7 to a restaurant. All the boys chose their drinks – variations of coca cola, orange juice and apple juice – until one boy who seemed to have difficulty deciding on what to drink. I read him the options from the extensive menu and without hesitation he said “No, I don’t want any of those, I think I’ll have an elderflower pressé” – jaw-dropping – without batting an eyelid he rejected a fairly comprehensive list of drinks for a completely different drink which by anyone’s standards sounds slightly strange coming from a 7 year old’s mouth. Needless to say this child will never be coming for a play date in my house in case he discovers that we only have the clearly inferior “Ribena” on offer.
Take shoes as another example. When I was young, footwear was very simple – girls wore flat Mothercare sandals (and I mean flat, totally pancake flat) in the summer, t-bar shoes in the winter (a very lucky few, whom I envied greatly, were allowed patent) and Dunlop Green Flash for sport. This morning I have been trying to buy my son some trainers – it has so far taken me the best part of an hour online without resolution as I have waded through hundreds upon hundreds of trainers – astro, cross-trainer, running blah, blah, blah. There doesn’t seem to be any such thing as a plain simple trainer – in fact you can get any sort of trainer as long as it is not plain and simple. Of course, neon, flashing, air-pocketed, ankle-supporting, breathable trainers also come at a high price – criminally high price.
Choice has permeated through every single fibre of our lives. Man’s best friend – the dog. In my childhood, dogs basically came in sizes and colours and if you wanted to get technical they did officially have a breed name. My first dog was quite big and black and white and my second dog was small and brown. Not today, oh no, no, no. It would be very very amateur to describe dogs by mere colour and size. Today we have so many new breeds that one could be forgiven for thinking that someone somewhere is having a real laugh at our expense, creating such preposterous breed names as cockapoo, spanador, labradoodle, shepadoodle and spoodle…..
Ok so I know you are thinking “here she goes again on one of her rants”…but I do actually, unusually for me, have a serious point to make. Not only do I think that all is this choice is frankly bad for our children and contributes greatly to the highly pressurised society in which we live where simplicity doesn’t appear to be an option, but if you stand back for a moment and consider what we have and what so many other people do not have, this level of choice seems at best ridiculous if not totally grotesque. How wrong is it that we are wasting our lives worrying about whether to have rye bread, pitta bread, multigrain bread, half and half bread when half the world’s population has nothing to eat at all? How wrong is it that a 7 year old is asking for an elderflower pressé when half the world’s population does not have clean drinking water? I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel deeply uneasy and really very uncomfortable. Our children are not just spoilt for choice, they are spoilt – full stop. It’s easy to say but I don’t think it is easy to rectify – some may think that all this choice signifies progress but I am not sure, if anything it is widening the gap between those who have and those who have not and I find this very worrying for future generations. What do you think?