Does Instagram Direct Give Us One Option Too Many?

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comicembedPhoto: Courtesy The Joy of Tech.
Instagram debuted a new service last week called Instagram Direct, which allows users to share photos with individuals or groups rather than just their entire group of followers. With that, it introduced yet another option for digital communication, which might not be a good thing for people who have difficulty making choices. In a new comic by The Joy of Tech, authors Nitrozac and Snaggy suggest that Instagram Direct could be one option too many, leading a man to completely shut down.

Joy of Tech might be joking, but there's more than a little truth behind this observation. In 2004, psychologist Barry Schwartz penned an article for Scientific American in which he described the "tyranny of choice" that we face when we are presented with an abundance of options. While it is "logical to think that if some choice is good, more is better," he wrote, too many options can actually produce feelings of anxiety of dread.

He cites the research of several social scientists that demonstrate "increased choice and increased affluence have, in fact, been accompanied by decreased well-being in the U.S. and most other affluent societies." Some people in particular, who he terms "maximizers," always try to compare and find the best possible product among many. For them, choices have built-in opportunity costs: Choosing one product means losing the opportunities that a different one would have provided. This can create anxiety, and even depression. "Sometimes," wrote Schwartz, "opportunity costs may create enough conflict to produce paralysis."

That's not to say that Instagram Direct is going to throw you into a melancholic spiral — at least, not on its own. (Slate's Jessica Winter, however, argues that Instagram "distills the most crazy-making aspects of the Facebook experience.") But, as our increasingly digital society continues to grow and our options within it multiply, it's worth thinking about: Maybe choice isn't all it's cracked up to be. (Mashable)