Which is Better?

If there is an underlying malaise to the human condition, it is the need to sort trivial things by which is better or which is worse. Fifty times a day I see articles online asking things like “Which is better? iOS or Android?” You know what I am talking about. There are all kinds of these meaningless comparisons that sprout up every day: which is better, Coke or Pepsi? Which is better Yankees or Red Sox? I can’t understand it, despite being guilty of it myself now and then.

In my younger days, I had strong opinions about things. Coke was better than Pepsi. Science fiction was better than fantasy. Reading was better than watching TV. In those younger days, I never really asked myself why one was better than the other. It just was. At some point, however, I began to ask myself why I thought one thing was better than another, and the answer I came up with changed my perspective somewhat. Coke was better than Pepsi because drinking a Coke made me happy. Science fiction was better than fantasy because reading science fiction made me happy. And reading was better than television because, well, you get the picture.

The need to have an opinion that one thing is better than something else is insidious. For trivial things like Coke vs. Pepsi, or baseball vs. football, it seems innocuous enough. But it also seems to create a mentality that everything has to be either better or worse than something else, without any relative or even measurable standard to compare against. Yankees are better than Red Sox becomes New Yorkers are better than New Englanders. Before long it is Northerners are better than Southerners, red is better than blue, etc., etc. ad infinitum.

My kids seems to play versions of the “which is better” game. “Would you rather have a million dollars or a million hamburgers” or something similarly ridiculous. Why does it matter, really? What does it mean if Coke is better than Pepsi? Better how? Better tasting? To someone who like the taste of Pepsi that doesn’t mean much.

I think the better question (if any question must be asked) is: Which makes you happier? Back in school, there were bands that were cool to like, and bands that were not. I imagine that many people “liked” the cool bands because that was the band to like if you were cool. I suspect the band’s music did not make everyone happy.

I have been guilty of this myself. Search back through my posts here and you’ll find me exclaiming how something is better than something else. Peanut butter and jelly is the best sandwich, meaning it is better than all other sandwiches. I’ve tried to move away from these. I’ve tried to explain to my kids that I prefer to think of which makes me happier as opposed to which one is better. I don’t think it sticks.

A variant of the “which” is better that I see a lot of on the Internet is the “why this is better than that” post. “Why Windows is better than Mac” (a premise I made a million times in the 1990s). “Why physical books are better than e-books.” Again, you get the picture. In this variant, the implication is the decision has already been made which is better, and you are being told why, rather than being asked for your opinion.

I wish there was a browser that would filter out these ridiculous comparison posts (mine included). The problem is, if such a browser existed, I’d say it was better than any other browser out there.


  1. I remember years ago arguing with a student who claimed that automatic transmission was better than manual. My argument was not that manual was better, but that each was better depending on what you wanted to be able to do as you drove your car. He refused to see my point. 🙂

    1. Michael, my own experience is that I had stronger opinions (like the one you described) when I was younger. Age and wisdom have mellowed these opinions. Back when I was flying, I was sure high-winged airplanes were better than low-winged ones, but that is because I flew Cessnas (high-winged). These day I find myself day-dreaming of flying a Cherokee 6 or some other low-winged airplane. I learned to drive a stick, but always preferred automatics because it was easier. Still, I thought manual transmissions were cooler, but couldn’t say why.


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