How Many Socks? – Reprise

This is a followup to a post of 2011-01-01 titled “How Many Socks?”  To review, just search for it or click the following link –  

Continuing on the subject of socks, let me mention the Thorlo brand. I first became aware of Thorlo socks when I started running in the ’80’s. The Thorlo running sock was bar-none the very best to be found. They were cushioned, well fitting, and lasted almost forever. They did cost a lot, but since running requires little besides shoes in the way of equipment, the cost seemed incidental. I have had Thorlo athletic socks perform for many years despite constant service.

Over these years, Thorlo has expanded its line again and again. It now includes a sock for every activity you can think of, and in multiple styles and colors and configurations.

If you search for “thorlo socks” on you will get 681 results. These include socks for running, tennis, walking, hiking, boots, fatigue boots, distance walking, breast cancer awareness, everyday outdoors, uniforms, basketball, safety steel toe shoes, western dress, backpacking, golf, skiing, ironmen and women, hunting, sensitive feet, calf roping, everyday comfort, extreme cold, diabetics, enduro running, military physical training, snow boarding, mountaineering, and postal uniforms. There are also some results needing  research for me to understand, such as the “women’s Xhale speed diva socks.”

Would you agree that it’s a good thing to have 681 choices if you’re shopping for a pair of socks?

I decided that it isn’t when I went online and tried to get another pair of the socks I already have. My favorite sock cannot tell you what it is. I’m sure the cardboard sleeve that came around it had a name, but that is gone and forgotten. Among the 681 Thorlo choices, there are many that look like my sock, and I have not way to know which one it might be or even if they still make my sock.

Fellow consumers, we are not being blessed by 681 choices, we are being duped and manipulated by them. The designed complexity of our choice will shortly frustrate and overwhelm us. Then we will rightly conclude that researching all these choices is a task we do not need and probably a game we cannot win. We end up just picking something that ends up not being what we wanted, and soon we are back to picking again. 

I saw this recently at the Verizon Wireless retail store where early holiday shoppers were being shown their opportunities to move up to the latest and greatest smartphones and tablets. Shoppers were nodding their heads as if they really understood the meaning of 3G, 4G, retina displays, 1080p, megapixels, download Mbps, VPN capability, and countless others. And this does not even get into the choices and charges for the cellphone plans needed for every new phone you purchase. The information overload is designed to get us to a state where we give up on understanding and just go with the sales pitch. How many of us would undertake to read and analyze a 33-page credit card agreement from the bank and then intelligently compare it with others before making a decision? 

I once spent a week at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, working on a training film. Aberdeen is a center for military intelligence and has a collection of captured weapons brought there for analysis. A friendly intelligence officer gave our team a guided tour of this facility, and a summary of military intelligence historically. He told us that the problem of early commanders was not enough information to go on. (I once read that the Battle of Gettysburg could have easily been won by either side if they just had a few of the walkie talkies now sold to children as toys.)  But the problem today is the opposite – too much information. The problem is how to process it and deal with the overload.

And there’s another problem. In addition to all the people informing us, there are others who make their living misinforming us. The misinformation gets mixed in with the information. Deception poses as enlightenment. In political campaigns it gets more and more blatent. In advertising the mix of fact and fiction is usually more subtle. At times there seems to be more misinformation than information. The fictions outnumber the facts.

I once attended a national convention where matters were debated that I had little knowledge of. It was confusing. I was expected to participate in the voting, and I sincerely wanted to do the right thing. Each time a new speaker presented his point of view, it sounded good to me and I was ready to vote in support. But then a new speaker would rise up and speak in total disagreement. And that sounded even better. I was tossed back and forth, like driftwood in the waves. I felt foolish, inadequate, and out of place.

This is the result of our information and disinformation overload.  We feel foolish, inadequate, and out of place. And it will likely get worse, not better. We must somehow learn to cope, to “sort things out” as the Brits like to say. Let me know your thoughts.

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