The Era of Choice
Today most of us are awash with choices. The cornucopia of material goods available to those of us in the developed world can turn each of us into a kid in a candy store; but our delight at picking the prize is undercut by our regret at lost opportunities. And what's the criterion for choosing anything—material, spiritual, the path taken or not taken—when we have lost our faith in everything? In The Era of Choice Edward Rosenthal argues that choice, and having to make choices, has become the most important influence in both our personal lives and our cultural expression. Choice, he claims, has transformed how we live, how we think, and who we are.
This transformation began in the nineteenth century, catalyzed by the growing prosperity of the Industrial Age and a diminishing faith in moral and scientific absolutes. The multiplicity of choices forces us to form oppositions; this, says Rosenthal, has spawned a keen interest in dualism, dilemmas, contradictions, and paradoxes. In response, we have developed mechanisms to hedge, compromise, and to synthesize. Rosenthal looks at the scientific and philosophical theories and cultural movements that choice has influenced—from physics (for example, Niels Bohr's theory that light is both particle and wave) to postmodernism, from Disney trailers to multiculturalism. He also reveals the effect of choice on the personal level, where we grapple with decisions that range from which wine to have with dinner to whether to marry or divorce, as we hurtle through lives of instant gratification, accelerated consumption, trend, change, and speed. But we have discovered, writes Rosenthal, that sometimes, we can have our cake and eat it, too.
About the Author
Edward C. Rosenthal is Associate Professor of Management Science and Operations Management at the Fox School of Business and Management at Temple University.
"This is an extremely readable cautionary tale about the 'vicious spiral of choice,' of how unresolved dualisms have informed modern life. . . . Rosenthal is a wonderful guide to intellectually demanding material."—Publishers Weekly
"Once men and women had hardly any choices in life, and now there are so many that choice itself has become a source of anxiety. Switch off your 500 cable channels and read Edward Rosenthal's important new book."
—Gregg Easterbrook, author of The Progress Paradox
"Insightful and broad-ranging ruminations on the ever-increasing array of choices we face. As Rosenthal ably demonstrates, these options play a surprisingly pervasive role in shaping our psyches, our economy, and our culture."
—John Allen Paulos, author of Innumeracy and A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper
"Edward Rosenthal makes a challenging argument that the hallmark of modernity is that 'choice' has been extended to every corner of our lives—the material, the social, the cultural, the conceptual, and the moral. To make his case, he discusses ... everything! There is an idea or an observation worth thinking about on every page of this extraordinary book."
—Barry Schwartz, Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action, Swarthmore College, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
"The Era of Choice sheds light on a central dilemma of our time. In an era when we are freer to choose than ever, we are increasingly overwhelmed by our choices. Edward Rosenthal brings his prodigious knowledge of philosophy, social theory, and history to help us better understand how we got to this point and where we might go from here."
—Richard Florida, Hirst Professor of Public Policy, George Mason University, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and The Flight of the Creative Class