The University of California, Berkeley, has over 350 degree programmes, including Buddhist Studies and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies, each made up of scores of courses.Choice has come to some of life's biggest personal decisions as well.Others have since come up with similar results from experiments with writing pens, gift boxes, coffee and even American 401(k) pension plans.(It is not all that way: German researchers, by contrast, found that shoppers were not put off by too much choice, whether of jams, chocolates or jelly beans—though this may be down to Germany's price-conscious shoppers and the sheer dreariness of the country's supermarkets.) As options multiply, there may be a point at which the effort required to obtain enough information to be able to distinguish sensibly between alternatives outweighs the benefit to the consumer of the extra choice.Today the choice is tongue-tingling: Thai sweet chilli, balsamic vinegar and caramelised onion, Oriental red curry, lime and coriander chutney, vintage cheddar and onion chutney, buffalo mozzarella and herbs, chicken tikka masala.And those are merely the varieties confected by a single crispmaker, Walkers, a division of Pepsi Co, which turns out 10m bags of crisps every day for the British market alone.Britain's Tesco stocks 91 different shampoos, 93 varieties of toothpaste and 115 of household cleaner.Carrefour's hypermarket in the Paris suburb of Montesson, a hangar-like place filled with everything from mountain bikes to foie gras, is so vast that staff circulate on rollerblades. Lattes come tall, short, skinny, decaf, flavoured, iced, spiced or frappé.
Little over a generation ago the humble snack came in just a trio of flavours: ready salted, cheese and onion, or salt and vinegar.Faces, noses, wrinkles, breasts and bellies can be remodelled, plumped or tucked.America in 2008 alone saw 2.5m Botox injections, 355,671 breast implants, 341,144 liposuction treatments, 195,104 eyelid lifts and 147,392 stomach tucks, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.Tropicana, another part of Pepsi Co, turns out freshly pulped juice in more than 20 different varieties, up from just six in 2004; it says there could be as many as 30 in the next decade.
Thanks to a mix of modern medicine, technology and social change, choice has expanded from the grocery shelf to areas that once had few or none.
Venture towards the gourmet fringes of the crisp offering, and the choice and exoticism multiply: jalapeño pepper, roast ox, horseradish and sour cream, Ludlow sausage with wholegrain mustard.