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In German, you can be spoilt for choice but never lost for words

In German, you can be spoilt for choice but never lost for words

How a Swiss sociologist defined a very modern condition: being overwhelmed by choice

How a Swiss sociologist defined a very modern condition: being overwhelmed by choice

Lane Greene | December/January 2020

1. mutiple-option society (noun)

mul ti ɔp tsi ˈoːnz gə zɛl  ʃaft

The German language is particularly good at pinpointing particular feelings or moments that we all recognise but would take a sentence to express in English. The language of Schadenfreude and Weltschmerz nailed another Zeitgeist with a coinage from the early 1990s, one that is more pertinent today than ever. The term Multioptionsgesellschaft literally means, “multiple-option society”, or, in more emotional or colloquial terms, a world swamped by choice.

Peter Gross, a Swiss sociologist, coined the word at a time when the Soviet threat had receded and Europe was reunifying. At this hopeful moment Gross was a pessimist, arguing that the apparently endless possibilities also led to Entobligationierung, or the removal of obligations, which in turn led to disorientation and stagnation.

Anyone who has mindlessly browsed Netflix trying to find something to watch, swiped listlessly through the faces of potential dating partners, or sat pondering a new look, hometown or career, has felt the pinch of this feeling. As a Swiss newspaper noted, the hard question of “What do I want?” has a way of turning into “Who am I?” The more choices available, the less any one of them seems right. Having so many options can often seem more like a curse than a gift.