Choice - what a weasel word
Choice. We hear it from politicians all the time. Whether it's giving people choice in healthcare or parents a choice in schools, it's a dangerous perspective. Choice sounds like a good idea. It sounds like something we should all want.
But not always.
Actually, we want excellence rather than choice. If schools were all good, then we'd not want to spend ages trying to get our children into some and avoid them going into others. If healthcare was good, we'd not want to chose a different hospital.
Choice is a great word for politicians. It allows them to appeal to people by offering them something that appears reasonable, without committing them to improving standards or quality. For them, it's a win-win. But for us, it's lose-lose. We get empty promises, and no improvements in services.
Choice does work in other areas. If you have a smartphone, you may have an iPhone. However, you might instead have a Blackberry, or one of the many phones using the increasingly-popular Android system. For all these devices, they meet the threshold of quality - they make calls, send texts, run cool apps that make many tasks much easier and quicker, play games, and so on. And then the fact that we have choice means that market pressures force the manufacturers to continually improve their offerings - and if we don't like it, we don't buy it.
In other cases, choice might work, but only if people have sufficient information. Health is an example: patients are often sick, stressed and in a vulnerable condition - why would we expect them to be able to understand the differences between different hospitals, treatment regimes, consultant approaches, morbidity and mortality statistics, and so on? In technology, this is true as well. Different operating systems are available - as well as Windows, there is the Mac OS, and variou flavours of the free system Linux. For many users, Linux systems would do all that the users need, for a fraction of the cost of a Windows system - and for people sufficiently versed in the technicalities, they can make an informed choice. For most of us, the situation is that we either by an Apple Mac and get Mac OS, or we buy a PC and get Windows - and actually that's a reasonable situation. There is choice, for people able to exercise it, and a suitable, quality system for those who want to accept the default.
Maybe politicians need to follow the technologists in their understanding of choice?