Luke Andrews

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17 February 2020

A few years ago, at the behest of my employer at the time, I took one of those psychological tests to identify my “strengths”. Among other things, it said I was “deliberative”, “analytical”, and “strategic”.

“You like to plan ahead so as to anticipate what might go wrong,” it said. “Others see you as logical and rigorous.” Indeed. “This perspective allows you to see patterns where others simply see complexity. Mindful of these patterns, you play out alternative scenarios, always asking, ‘What if this happened?’”

Of course many of us probably see our biggest strengths as weaknesses, and in my case, I don’t think I had really considered how this side of my personality might make me pretty good at my job. I really do like analyzing possibilities, thinking them through, assessing risk, and generally being…thorough. These are good qualities in user experience and software design. I think they have served me well in my career.

The flip side of all this deliberation and analysis is that I don’t enjoy making decisions when I feel like there might be information I haven’t yet considered. This experience is never worse than when I set out to research a consumer product on the internet. Not only is there an endless supply of information, but a lot of it is of dubious quality and provenance, so I often feel paralyzed. “There must be some more reviews of this product! But wait, are these reviews trustworthy?”

Last year, my wife and I cancelled our Amazon Prime account. There were many reasons. We felt guilty about the environmental cost of all those boxes. Then there’s the questionable labour conditions at Amazon warehouses. And don’t forget Amazon’s lack of concern for proper training and safety with its subcontracted network of delivery vans and trucks. Finally there’s Amazon’s cutthroat practices with merchants, who find themselves squeezed or even undercut altogether by “AmazonBasics”. But never mind all that! For the deliberate shopper, Amazon is now also a terrible experience. No matter the product, if one does not already have a very specific model in mind, there are dozens or even hundreds of unknown brands selling near-identical variations of the thing made somewhere in Asia. They all have reviews, but the reviews are fake.

This isn’t an Amazon-specific problem of course. There are dozens or even hundreds of unknown websites selling near-identical variations of things made somewhere in Asia.

This isn’t even a shopping-on-the-internet problem. There are also dozens or even hundreds of thousands of unknown people selling near-identical variations of ideas made somewhere in… Russia.

Perhaps the way we used to live was always secretly reductive, and the internet has merely revealed the world for the chaotic, non-sensical place that it is. There is no one answer. There is no correct choice. No matter how many websites I visit, no matter how many opinions I read, I am not only no closer to finding the truth about anything, but quite often instead the truth seems farther away. Perhaps this is another part of getting older, to realize just how much I don’t know, and how much I can never know.

Still, I would like to know which cordless vacuum to buy.