Originally published at GerardMcLean.com
I ran out of coffee filters the other day. Not a big deal, I’ll just hike to Kroger and get some more. When I got there, I saw the empty peghook that once held my filters. Moreover, there was a red tag on the hook informing me that this product would be discontinued.
Here’s why this is a big deal. A few years ago, the 53rd automatic drip coffee maker I have ever purchased in my life, died. Just quit. Arrgghh, there has to be a better way. And there was. Melitta makes this carafe and cone set that only requires hot water and gravity to make coffee. The only wrinkle is that it also requires a size 6 cone filter. But, since Kroger carried it, not a big deal. I adopted my new system. And it was great because it was so simple. It only really required gravity to work. And gravity was free.
Then someone at Kroger decided they were not selling enough #6 filters. And, without asking me, they just quit carrying them.
Amazon.com still sells the #6 and I just bought approximately 2.6 years worth of filters. Until my filters arrive, I am using paper towels to line the cone. In the event Melitta decides to quit selling the #6 cone filter altogether, I know I have 2.6 years to come up with an alternate solution to a perfectly good system. But, what I foolishly adopted outside of the normal 10-cup basket filter automatic drip coffee maker is now showing signs of that death-march to obsolescence. An inferior technology persists because it is ubiquitous.
We get change and new stuff. Really, we do. It excites us. It gets us out of bed every day. But we also have a library of 8mm reels our childhood is on that we can’t watch, a library of 8 track and cassettes our music is on that we can’t hear, a library of VHS tapes our children’s lives are on that we can’t relive and a mountain of Zip Drive cartridges our careers are on that we can’t share or pass on. We’ve seen the result of a system being brought to its knees when a tiny bit of the supply chain becomes obsolete right after we dedicate a large chunk of our lives to it.
We grew up in large families (which is why there are so many of us now clogging the ladder rungs to the top) where everything from dinner to clothes to mom’s attention was a competition with the people you lived with. Most of our families had one car and one income and choices were made based on the supply of resources. We got jobs that promised us work, retirement accounts and free benefits that seemed too good to be true. We took them and squirreled them away, believing that one day they would be gone (turns out we were right.) We’ve lived through and survived at least three recessions and a very large oil embargo. We’ve seen an explosive increase in the divorce rate. In short, we’ve been conditioned to know that free is never unlimited free. Free will run out. Free has a catch. The good times do not last. Commitments are broken every day without apology, remorse or obligation.
And now Twitter and Foursquare want to be the operations in our supply chains, somewhere between service delivery and invoicing. I can see the possibilities for several industries we do work for and it is very, very exciting. But Twitter is free, it has really no reason to be there tomorrow, no obligations, no contract with me.
As I reach for the coffee filters that are no longer there, between boiling the water and lining the cone with carefully folded paper towels, I pause and think, “What if Evan Williams decided to just quit doing Twitter?”