Ever feel like an aristocrat? Its deliberate.
The consumer revolution was, and is, driven by the democratization of privilege. Goods and services once reserved for the elite are routinely made available to the middle class.
Every man has his “castle. We eat food that 200 years ago was the definition of aristocrat privilege. Our clothing is better than most nobs could have hoped for. We have access to music and literature that once existed only in private libraries and exalted drawing rooms.
Most of this democratization has been driven by technology, to be sure. That thing we call a ‘telephone accomplishes a task that once required a private secretary scribbling furiously. That thing we call a “kitchen once required a “downstairs staff of 10. (I recently heard someone call a dish washing machine a robot. I prefer to think of it as a servant.)
Weve been stubborn on certain points. We continue to insist on driving our own cars, not a very aristocratic thing to do. But then this is what a taxi is for. All we need to do in a crowded urban centre is to raise our hands, and suddenly a cab appears. Surrender a few coins, and the cab goes away.
And the process continues. While I was doing research for IBM on the business traveler, I fell to thinking about how the princes of New York City travel. Theyre the ones who maybe seen striding into gleaming towers without encumbrance. We know them in Manhattan by how little they carry. In this case, the status object is no object at all.
I thought of this as I watched people schlepping their luggage through airports in Boston, Chicago and Denver. Beasts of burden! Kay Lemon, my colleague, and I fell to thinking. Surely, there is a solution to this sort of thing. We wondered, “why dont people surrender their bags to Fed Ex the night before they travel, and have it waiting for them when they arrive?
It was too good an idea not to occur to someone else. Pam, my fiancée, spotted an article on the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel. Apparently the PBH routinely acce[ts guest luggage from Fed Ex. Once the guest has left the hotel, the PBH cleans, presses and repacks everything and sends it back. (Pams idea: “Perhaps airlines should reduce rates for passengers traveling without luggage.) Suddenly, the schlepping is over. The security line at the airport is a breeze. And the airline no longer has a chance to set our suitcase to Argentina.
This is one of those business revolutions in the making. Now that we have an almost perfect distribution system in the form of Fed Ex, why not relieve the airlines of something they do badly? Indeed, why is anyone leaving the home or office with anything larger than a purse or a brief case? At one of the cross roads of culture and commerce is a steady stream of innovations moving from on high to the rest of us. Thank you, Monarchical Express.
McKendrick, Neil, John Brewer, and J. H. Plumb. 1982. The Birth of A Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.