Friday, March 4, 2011

Information and Choice

"Every bit of incoming information presents a choice: whether to pay attention, whether to reply, whether to factor it into an impending decision. But decision science has shown that people faced with a plethora of choices are apt to make no decision at all." This is claimed in a recent Newsweek article, called "I Can’t Think!"

Is this claim true? I doubt it. Most information is irrelevant to most of our concerns. So, it gets ignored or passed over. The article actually talks about information relevant for a certain decision, like whether to join a 401 (k) plan. And decision science seems to show that "the more information people confronted about a 401(k) plan, the more participation fell: from 75 percent to 70 percent as the number of choices rose from two to 11, and to 61 percent when there were 59 options. People felt overwhelmed and opted out." But is this a decision about information? No, it is a decision about something else involving information. And who ever said that more information leads to increased decisiveness?

When we take notes, we must make decisions about the information we take note of, whether it is important and where to store it. We do so, to prepare for other decisions later on. Decision-making so understood is at the very least a two-stage process.

So one answer to the question "How can you protect yourself from having your decisions warped by excess information?" is "By deliberately taking notes and thinking about them." This is not an answer considered in the article.

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