An addicted insider’s account of our real lives in the era of the realtime, social web.

Confession #100: Buried Under an Avalanche of Options

Looking back on it now, the first time I truly felt the need for a note-taking app was when I started researching note-taking apps. I was just looking for a simple tool to save ideas about upcoming articles or jot down an occasional to-do list.

Stop. Do not send me your pick for best note-taking app.

I can’t take any more options. I’ve already spent weeks comparing sets of features I’m pretty sure I’ll never need. I tried out at least fifteen applications on my desktop, phone and on the web. I was completely overwhelmed by choices. The process began to take over my life. I spent hours in front of my laptop, I’d demo various features for my wife and kids, and my quest quickly became the only topic I could focus on when interacting with friends.

They say failure is not an option. But everything else is.

Before long, I was sucked from the relatively simple playing field of note-taking apps into the deep and horrible vortex of productivity tools. There are nearly two thousand personal productivity apps for the iPhone alone. I found myself digging deeper into my research, comparing features, downloading free trials, and even inventing new behaviors to match the feature sets of the tools I encountered.

I didn’t even have a personal productivity problem. But I do now.

These options are everywhere. Amazon just launched a Cloud Drive for storing and streaming music. Please, not another potential way for me to interact with my music. I spend so much time trying to decide where to download, store and stream my music collection that I don’t have any time left to listen to it. I’d be better off hiring a cover band to follow me around and take requests.

A few years ago, the only lesson I had to learn about music storage was to keep my records away from the back of a car on a hot day.

Last week, Firefox came out with a newer, faster, better browser. Oh god no. After months of switching back and forth among browsers I had finally settled on Chrome. And now the speed and new features offered by Firefox have ripped open that wound.

Goodbye browsing. Hello deciding.

I have been reading The New York Times for decades. But now I have to figure out the new paywall. I can access a certain number of articles for free, I can pay for more, or I can get the Sunday paper and be given free access, or maybe I should subscribe to the Kindle edition and then download the apps for my other devices. Come on. Who has time for the articles anymore? Let’s make this simple. How about if I just give you my wallet, my checking account number, my social security number and my first born child and you just let me sit down and read?

Remember when there was a really simple answer to the question, “Do you want to watch a movie?”

Yes, I want to watch a movie. I just can’t decide whether to watch it via Netflix, AppleTV, Pay-Per-View, Amazon, Blu-ray, Boxee, Vudu, Roku, or whether I should watch it on my iPhone, my iPad, my laptop, my desktop or my TV. If I want, I can even download the movie to my iPhone and then stream it to my AppleTV. I was confused enough when I had to choose between Betamax and VHS. What’s next, a hundred and eleven flavors of popcorn?

Want to read a book? Just decide if you want it in hardcover, paperback, or digital format, and if digital, which device, which app, which font size and which background. It’s that simple. Within a few hours, you’ll be happily reading.

Need a new television set? No problem, I can recommend an excellent six-week course on which factors and features to consider. The only problem is that almost all of them will be obsolete by the time you complete the course.

What happened to the old television learning curve when the most complex factors had to do with rabbit ear positioning?

Technology has inundated us with great tools and given us access to heaps of information. But it’s also burying us under an avalanche of options.

For certain products, I can take the easy way out. My friend Isaac is one of those rare people who loves doing the research. If I need a new camera, I just call him. But even then, it’s a challenge to get a simple answer without being confronted with a list of possible features.

Isaac:  One key factor is the number of megapixels.

Me:  Just tell me which camera to buy.

Isaac:  Is battery life or video quality more critical?

Me:  Stop. Which one?

Isaac:  I tend to focus on white balance, iso and lens brightness.

Me:  I’ll give you ten grand if you just hand me a camera and never mention white balance again.

Of course, picking a camera is easy compared to choosing a way to share your photos. My parents always complain that I never let them see photos of their grandchildren. Believe me, I want to. I just can’t decide how.

I hate these choices and I hate doing the research. I’m not even sure how I became an early adopter in the first place. This isn’t me. In other parts of my life I never consider the options and I never change. I’ve poured the same salad dressing and wiped my counter with the same paper towels for more than twenty years.

When it comes to technology, I’m lucky if I can be satisfied with the same tool for twenty minutes.

Maybe what I really need to do is come up with a perfect app that enables people to quickly make decisions about all of their other apps. I should write that idea down somewhere.

Anyone have a pencil?


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My name is Dave Pell, internet superhero. This blog provides an addicted insider's account of what's happening to us in the era of the realtime, social web. You can read more about the site, grab the rss feed, follow me on twitter, join the Facebook page, or get email updates.