Demand A Difference

August 13, 2004

It’s my understanding that in the future everything will be available "on demand". Food, books, movies, music, and even hard-to-produce things like cars and peeled grapes will be available on demand. And to some degree this is already true. You can order movies by pressing a few buttons on your television’s remote control…assuming you’re able and willing to pay about three times what your basic cable subscription costs. And I saw a commercial not long ago in which two people can’t make up their mind what color they want their new car to be. Every time they change their mind a computer goes to work spraying the car a new color. I think suffocating from paint fumes would be enough to make people make up their mind pretty quickly. But will everything really someday be available on demand? According to most science fiction it will be, and you what a good track record science fiction has as far as predicting the future goes. Maybe there are no colonies on Mars, and no truce has been established with the spear-wielding Scandinavian women who live on the Moon, but submarines, space travel, and airmail postage were all dreamed up in science fiction first, and look how much better those things have made our lives.

Just imagine if the "on demand" world of Star Trek – where all you have to do is walk up to a computer and say, "Give me a banana daiquiri" and it appears – comes to pass. For one thing we’ll all be in serious trouble with our diets. One of the theories for the "obesity epidemic" is that for our ancestors of 25,000 years ago or so staples like fat and salt were so scarce they’d eat as much of these things as they could whenever they got the chance. Since we don’t have to chase deep fried burritos across an open plain we’re getting fat. So what happens when we don’t even have to get up and go farther than halfway across the room? I watch Star Trek and think that there must be one of three possibilities: 1) people in the future have much more self-control, 2) people in the future spend at least twenty hours a day on a rowing machine, or 3) those bright red jumpsuits can magically hold back at least a ton of cellulite and come equipped with a defibrillator.

But I digress. Maybe the technology will exist someday for literally everything to be produced on demand, but how much of a difference will that really make? I remember when I was a kid sitting around with my friends talking about what kinds of cars we’d get when we got our licenses. I thought I’d like a 1929 Studebaker, or maybe, during one of my darker moments, a hearse. I honestly thought I could go to the car lot and say, "I’ll take a hearse," and the car dealer would say, "Would you like that in black or paisely?" But even if it were available, would I really drive a car so inefficient its gas consumption is measured in feet per inches? For that matter, would I really take the 1929 Studebaker, since it only comes with manual transmission? But let’s say it could happen. Everything could be made on demand exactly to your specifications. Everything – from what you drive, the house you live in, the food you eat, the clothes you wear – would be the ultimate expression of your individuality. Think about it. You’d probably dress like most other people, live in a house that looked like most other peoples’, and drive something that looked like most of what else is on the road. Why would this be? Because you’re unique, an individual – just like everybody else.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


YOU KNOW YOU’RE LIVING IN 2004 WHEN…

1. You accidentally enter your password on the microwave.

2. You haven’t played solitaire with real cards in years.

3. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of 3.

4. You e-mail the person who works at the desk next to you.

5. Your reason for not staying in touch with friends and family is that they don’t have e-mail addresses.

6. You go home after a long day at work and you still answer the phone in a business manner.

7. You make phone calls from home, you accidentally dial "9" to get an outside line.

8. You’ve sat at the same desk for four years and worked for three different companies.

10. You learn about your redundancy on the 11 o’clock news.

11. Your boss doesn’t have the ability to do your job.

12. You pull up in your own driveway and use your cell phone to see if anyone is home.

13. Every commercial on television has a website at the bottom of the screen.

14. Leaving the house without your cell phone, which you didn’t have the first 20 or 30 (or 60) years of your life, is now a cause for panic and you turn around to go and get it.

15. You get up in the morning and go online before getting your coffee.

16. You start tilting your head sideways to smile. 🙂

17. You’re reading this and nodding and laughing.

18. Even worse, you know exactly to whom you are going to forward this message.

19. You are too busy to notice there was no #9 on this list.

20. You actually scrolled back up to check that there wasn’t a #9 on this list.

And now you’re laughing at yourself.

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