The Simple Life: No Choices

<B>Bill Geist</B> On All Of The Choices Out There

This week's commentary is by 60 Minutes II Columnist Bill Geist.
Starbucks are everywhere. I walk by three on one street in my neighborhood on my way to work.

They say there are plans to open a Starbucks in the bathroom of this Starbucks.

Inside they speak a different language: Starbucks-speak. It's a language I don't really understand:

"Double tall cappuccino"
"Iced Venti unsweetened iced coffee"

Starbucks has more than 19,000 different drinks, most of them coffee. Is that mathematically possible – 19,000 drinks?

"We came up with 19,000 different beverages by really combining all the different options that we have in the stores," says a Starbucks representative. "Decaf espresso or regular espresso; skim milk or whole milk or soy milk; whipped cream, no-whipped cream; sprinkles and all kinds of things on the condiment bar."

Remember when you ordered a cup of coffee and the only question was, Cream and sugar?

You really need to study your Starbucks materials before you go in. You've got to know your frappuccinos from your macchiatos.

If you want a cup of coffee these days, you've got to be prepared for extensive interrogation:

First off, which of the dozens of kinds of Starbucks coffee do you want? Arabian Mocha Sanani? Ethiopia Yergacheffe? How about some Special Reserve Estate 2003 Sumatra Lintong Lake Tawar? Hmmm?

They don't seem to have any Folgers or Maxwell House. And what size? Vente whatever that means, Grande, or Tall?

Milk? Whole, non-fat, half and half, organic, or soy?

Sugar or sweetener? Sweet 'N Low, Equal, or Splenda?

Caf? Decaf? Half caf-half decaf?

Foam, light foam, extra foam, no foam. Hot or extra hot?

Then there are the moral and ethical questions pertaining to your cup of coffee. There is shade-grown environmentally friendly coffee. Or Starbucks Free Trade coffee, harvested in countries that aren't unfair to their workers?

No wonder the lines can be long sometimes at Starbucks. All these decisions and options!

And it's not just coffee. While we worship freedom of choice, it seems we now have a tyranny of choices. Shoppers face 100 kinds of deodorant to choose from, three-dozen kinds of lettuce, 300 shampoos, at least a hundred different phones, 24 kinds of Tropicana orange juice, and hundreds of bottled waters -- when perhaps there should be none.

Call me Amish, but I'd actually prefer fewer products, fewer decisions and a simpler life. Iceberg lettuce was OK by me. Tap water, a big fat hardwired phone where no one ever had to ask "Can you hear me now?"

And a cup of joe, black.
  • Rebecca Leung

Comments