Life is so much easier when we don’t have to make decisions, isn’t it? Our favorite online Web sites, gadgets, and retailers hope we agree and appreciate their efforts to make consumption decisions that we used to make on our own: Netflix suggests which movie we should watch, Pandora outlines the music we should listen to, and Amazon tells us what we should read.

The analytics involved in deciphering consumer preferences are complex, and the wealth of information they use helps them achieve good accuracy. But they are not perfect; they are only as good as the information they receive. For example, GPS devices might lay out the map, but they also have been known to send people over cliffs, into ponds, and through construction sites. As consumers rely more and more on available tools, they stop using their intuition and put all their trust in the GPS device as unfailingly correct.

A brain can be on autopilot, even if the consumer isn’t driving though. Reebok sneakers claim to improve the appearance of wearers’ buttocks and increase weight gain. The next iteration of this miracle shoe promises to adjust to each wearer’s alignment, to encourage maximum weight loss. These products and technologies are remarkable, but they also seem to remove responsibility for exercising, or thinking clearly, from the consumer.

Consumers often like being able to delegate tiresome or repetitive tasks. If Pandora chooses music for a user, it may introduce the listener to new tracks, but it also may mean the consumer loses track of some of his or her favorite tunes. At what point does autopilot become automated consumption?

Discussion Questions:

1. Have you had problems with automatic technology that makes incorrect decisions for you? 

2. List some concerns associated with automated options, as well as their benefits. Are they worthwhile?

Joel Delman, “Are Amazon, Netflix, Google, Making Too Many Decisions for Us?” Forbes, November 24, 2010.