I used to go through life with a certain tolerance for doubt.
I'd look around my life at the tools and services I'd chosen to equip myself with, and I wouldn't be thrilled with any of them, but I'd shrug and say "Well maybe this cell phone or kitchen sponge or pair of shoelaces isn't the best, but I did my best with what I knew when I chose them. And I'm in no worse a boat than every other adult in this world.
"I mean, who can know what the best sponge in world is? Or if there even is one? The best we can do is make a good guess on the day you go to the store.
"What else can you do? Spend your whole life testing sponges? I mean, there's not really a best of anything...is there?"
A world in which "the best" is a subjective measure is a world in which we are all equally bad at being adults. I'm fine living in a world of mediocrity, as long as I am not falling short of some Platonic ideal.
But then I discovered Wirecutter, and its sister site Sweethome. And they convinced me that there is such a thing as "the right choice", about everything. Every choice that you could possibly make in your life. All you need to do is apply enough intellectual firepower to the problem. If you rigorously test all of the options, and lay out your evidence in an apples-to-apples comparison, the correct choice of dish soap or snow shovel or cell phone will be self-evident.
What the WireCutter people do is boil down some big consumer question, like "which TV should I buy?", into a single answer: the Sony X900B (as of this writing).
That's it. That's the end of your shopping. Just click the link and buy it.
What they're saying is, all else being equal, if you want "the best" TV, you should buy the X900B. Ok, if you don't want to spend that much, you can go with their "a step down" option, the Vizio M602i-B3.
But that's the answer. I mean, you can keep googling around if you want to and try to make your own stupid "feature comparison grid" on a legal pad, like some kind of troglodytic animal. But understand that this will be strictly for the thrill of the chase. You're not going to be as thorough as Wirecutter, you're not going to know what to look for, and you're not going to actually be able to test them yourself. Yours will be a strictly "feature-based" comparison, with no human touch, no subjectivity to your comparison, because you're too poor to actually be able to try out all of the possibilities.
At first, I felt that this was the greatest website I've ever seen, and possibly the greatest service that the Internet has ever done to humanity (or at least capitalism). It was like Consumer Reports, except free and on an angel dust-Adivan cocktail (most reviews clock in at over 10,000 words).
And the reviews are actually good. We bought our washer/dryer, dish soap, paper towels, and cheap earbuds based entirely on Wirecutter's recommendation, and they have all been flawless decisions. And, best of all, decisions that I didn't have to make.
The best gift that Wirecutter ever gave to me was that it saved me from having to choose.
But then I noticed the downside. I looked around my life and I saw all the things that I'd already bought, in the past, without the help of Wirecutter. These garbage products consumed without even three thousand words of testing and analysis. Just plucked from a rack or a shelf based on advertising or packaging or price or <shudder> word of mouth. Why was I wasting space in my life on such trash?
I started to purge, at random, whatever was within arm's reach.
Snow shovel? Okay, we can fix that.
USB cable? Whew, dodged a bullet there; cheap to replace.
Yoga mat? Throw that shit away; we are a family that owns the CORRECT yoga mat, goddamn it.
Nail clippers? Fuck you, Mediocrity! I have a new master now!
Shoelaces? ...Oh dear God... there's no review...
Wooden cooking spoon?? Sweet Jesus, what the fuck do we do now?
Wool hat??! Chaos and anarchy!
I had been shown that there was a Way, that there was An Answer, singular, to these impossible, seemingly arbitrary choices that I agonize over every day. I had been convinced that adult consumption was not arbitrary, but could be made to follow a very specific heuristic, IF you knew the right questions to ask.
Once Wirecutter got me thinking in these terms, I couldn't turn it off. In part this was due to the fact that I didn't want to turn it off. This was the way I'd always wished the world to be, where "definitive" and "correct" were not ideals but actual properties of the landscape.
We must remember that the "project" of Wirecutter must inevitably exist in a perpetual realm of Gödel incompleteness. (The Wirecutter recommendation for the best possible Wirecutter review could not possibly consider itself.)
It was my own fault for trying to relieve myself of the adult's "burden of doubt". There is no shirking it; it must be borne. Whether between coffees or sneakers or watches or ties, it is that space between our decision and the perfect decision that defines us. We have to be okay with that.