Earlier today, I went to lunch at a burger restaurant and the soda dispenser was amazing. It had a touchscreen that you used to select your soda. But that wasn’t all! Once you’d selected the broad category of soda (Sprite, for instance), you could go in and select which variety of sprite you wanted. And then you just push the only physical button on the machine (it was marked PUSH) and the soda would come out. That is awesome. Obviously it contains a bevy of syrups inside and is mixing things on the go, but I had never believed that such an amazing device was within the realm of possibility.
This is not something that could’ve been given to us by a small business. A mom and pop store might be able to sell us an array of fascinating sodas, but there’s no way they’re gonna design and build the king of all soda dispensers. Small businesses can give us variety, but it takes a corporation to refine that variety into something that’s truly sharp and amazing.
I think about this every time I go into Starbucks. I am not a big coffee drinker, so I can’t speak to how good their coffee is. But the idea of Starbucks is mind-boggling. It’s a place where you’re allowed to go in, plop down 2 bucks for a cup of tea, and sit for HOURS. Before Starbucks, that didn’t exist. Coffeeshops were for conversation and for coffee. If you tried to sit, you’d get the stink-eye. In fact, independent coffeeshops still give you the stink-eye if you sit too long without buying. Before Starbucks, the only warm and enclosed space where people could go for extended periods of time was the public library. And you can’t talk or drink coffee in the library.
Let’s take a moment to reflect. This is something that’s truly amazing. A graceful new mode of living was given to us by a corporation.
I’d say that the same thing is true of fast food and chain restaurants. They homogenize food, but they also perfect and disseminate it. The food in fast food restaurants might be awful for you, but it’s also unbelievably delicious. A McDonald’s hamburger tastes like nothing else on earth: it has exactly the perfect amount of mustard and the spiciness of the mustard is exactly right. And you can get this perfection at 4 AM, for a dollar, without leaving your car.
In every area of our consumer life, corporations are giving us easy ways of consuming beautiful things. Corporations might do a lot of bad in the world, but I don’t think they can be beat when it comes to delivering consumer experiences. Some people think that a world without McDonalds would be a lot richer, because we’d have thousands of different hamburger restaurants scattered all over the place. I, on the other hand, think a McDonald’s-less world would be much poorer, because none of those restaurants would be nearly as fast, delicious, or cheap as McDonald’s. Without the advantages of scale, there’s simply no incentive to refine one’s business processes to the extent that McDonald’s has.