Friday night topic: The nosehair trimmer dilemma


— 5:29 PM on October 17, 2014

The modern economy is a wonderful blessing in many ways, but it does produce some strange scenarios that can be difficult to process. I remember, when I visited Uganda in college, talking to someone who explained how Western-style supermarkets could be incredibly stifling to a person not accustomed to so much choice. How do you know, they asked, which type of toilet paper to choose? Or toothpaste? Apparently, confronting choice when you've not had it can be perplexing, even paralyzing.

Shopping online at Amazon can put me in that position at times. I remember being grateful to see a product matrix like this one when shopping for Wi-Fi routers:

That gives you a quick summary of your choices and a sense of what you'd be giving up by spending less. Makes sense, right?

But not all of the choices there really matter. For instance, I have no use for a router with a "dedicated video mode," and I have my doubts that IP-based QoS will matter much in a wireless home network (and all bets are off once you hit the Internet, anyhow). You do need to have a sense of what the tick boxes mean in order to interpret this matrix.

Things took a turn for the weird on this front last night when I was poking through Amazon in search of a facial nosehair trimmer. For, you know, a dear friend of mine who is down on his luck and could really use one. Definitely not for myself. Nope.

Anyhow, I found what seemed to be a promising $13 trimmer, and as I scrolled down the page looking for the user reviews, I was suddenly confronted with this:

Really. Does your nosehair trimmer have a mirrored cap? You might be missing out by not paying more for the $20 model! Or the $35 one that will suck up your clipped ends in its vacuum system!

Sometimes, mature markets for products get to be a little too well-served, and we get nonsense like this. Among other things, this  phenomenon has inspired a whole genre of satirical Amazon reviews, which in turn led Amazon to create a page of the top attempts. I like this one about a tailor-made banana-slicing instrument: "Gone are the days of biting off slice-sized chunks of banana and spitting them onto a serving tray." Thank goodness!

Where have you run into this phenomenon of market excess? Have you felt unsettled by confronting choice, perhaps especially when you don't have all of the information and interpretive tools to process it? Have you developed any habits for coping with choices that are too daunting or too ridiculous to process quickly? Do you have any favorite satirical Amazon reviews that really capture the essence of the insanity? Discuss.

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