Paralyzed by a Google of choices

Alan Duff

Let’s consider some scary data. Search “Barack Obama” on Google, and the site will come up with about 895 million results in a quarter of a second. “Lady Gaga” will give 266 million results.

“Lawrence University” gives only 15 million results, and if you search my name you end up with a measly 18 million results. At least I’m beating Lawrence.

What’s scarier is that there are currently 48 hours of video uploaded every minute to YouTube, which creates about eight more years of footage every day added to the site. There is more video footage available on YouTube than a person can watch in their lifetime.

According to the World Bank, there are almost seven billion people on the planet, and in the time it has taken you to read to this, three babies were born in the United States.

These facts terrify me. Sure, there’s a lot of data flying around and the choices it presents us with are amazing. The knowledge a person can acquire is almost infinite now thanks to the Internet, which a few centuries wouldn’t have been imaginable. It should be a good thing, right?

Access for Americans is no longer the issue when it comes getting a hold of the information they need. Whatever a person wants to know, they can probably find out directly or find someone who can tell them, thanks to the extensive World Wide Web we’ve created.

The problem is the search process has now become akin to finding a digital needle in a data mountain.

We’d like to imagine in the United States that the more choices the better, when in fact too many choices can paralyze us. Take, for example, a restaurant menu. If there is only one choice then there is no variance.

But what if the restaurant menu has 100 different entreés? Does that really help the customer’s ability to make a good choice, or does it simply distract and slow them down from choosing what to eat for lunch?

Nearly infinite knowledge equals nearly infinite choices, and when we have a limited amount of time, it means there are more choices than we can make in one lifetime. Prioritizing becomes necessary, and learning how to remove choices and prioritize options should be part of our education system.

More information seems freeing, but it often bogs us down and wastes our time. If you’re anything like the average college student, this will make sense.

The internet is a wonderful source of information, but it can also steal time as quickly as “Jersey Shore” steals away my faith in humanity. There is always new information available, but a person could go their whole life reading news updates ad nausuem — never making progress on anything.

Trying to decide what to do with your life can be just as daunting of a choice, and it’s supposed to be in part what college is all about — learning to make informed decisions for what career you may like to pursue or what subject you love.

I wish public schools would put us on this track sooner. They should lay out the choices more clearly, so we wouldn’t have to worry ourselves to death over what would become of our future.

I’m not saying we should narrow our options down to one or two careers. Choices are great, but too much of anything is always harmful. Besides, I see no reason why we can’t be taught to narrow our choices based on quality, instead of rolling the dice.